Howelsen Ice Arena expansion project appears to be skating on thin ice | SteamboatToday.com

Howelsen Ice Arena expansion project appears to be skating on thin ice

Hockey players skate across the ice at the Howelsen Ice Arena. Plans to add a multi-sport facility that includes a second sheet of ice have hit a $1.9 million dollar roadblock that threatens to cancel the project. (Photograph by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Expansion plans at the Howelsen Ice Arena may or may not be on thin ice depending on who you ask.

"I'm not saying that the project is dead in the water," said Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter. “I've been using terms like the project has been canceled — for now. I would say it is on life support right now. The funding deficit is pretty significant, but that's not to say that we couldn't have some sort of extraordinary event that would bring it back to life and make it a reality."

Despite being awarded $900,000 from excess revenue collected through the Steamboat Springs accommodation tax, a pledge of $1 million from Michael and Sara Craig-Scheckman and $615,000 raised through private donations, the campaign to add a second sheet of ice at the arena seems to have lost traction.

"The Craig-Scheckmans have agreed to see the memorandum of understanding through to the end of the year, and if there was additional funding that came in, we would have greater discussions with moving forward with the project," said Alan Lind, general services director for the city of Steamboat Springs. "They didn't want to cancel the memorandum of understanding; they just wanted to let it lapse come Dec. 31."

Sara Craig-Scheckman said she has met with Suiter and other city officials about extending the memorandum of understanding past the end of this year.

"Really, legally, that means creating a new memorandum of understanding because this particular memorandum of understanding ends at the end of December," Sarah Craig-Scheckman said. "The million dollars that Michael and I pledged in the memorandum of understanding would need to be granted, and the project would need to be thoroughly underway by the end of December 2018."

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The project involves construction of a pavilion that would cover a second sheet of ice in the winter and an indoor multi-sport facility in the summer. A total of $2.516 million has been raised for the project to date, but the rising cost of construction, including materials and labor, has created a $1.9 million funding gap.

Kerry Shea, who chairs the committee that is raising funds for the new facility, said he believes inaccuracies in the latest cost estimates, as well as the availability of in-kind donations, would reduce the funding difference significantly.

"The last budget that was presented to City Council was inaccurate. There were premiums related to the seasonality of when the bidding process occurred,” Shea said. “Unfortunately, the budget came in literally days before the actual City Council meeting and the discussion on this topic."

In December of 2017, the cost of the new facility was estimated between $2.5 and $2.9 million, and now, the projected cost has risen to $4.43 million. Increased labor and material costs added to the total, but in the end, Suiter said timing contributed to the project’s inflated costs.

"There were some numbers that were double counted, but they were not enough to make a material difference," Suiter said. "The concept behind these escalations was just pure timing."

By the time designs were approved, the earliest bids could go out was August or September.

"The planets just were not aligned this time around," Suiter said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council was presented with three project recommendations including building to the level of the current funding, taking delivery of the steel and delaying the project into 2019 or canceling the project.

“They don’t want to build half a facility here and then have to wait for the money to come it,” Lind said. “I regret that the project is not moving forward, but I think it is the right decision by council to say ‘let’s push the pause button.’ I hope that it will come back to the front burner at some point, and we will see it through.”

The city has already spent $334,000 on the project, which included a non-refundable deposit on steel, re-routing electric and fiber optic lines, planning and other pre-project construction costs. The estimated $67,000 spent on the steel deposit will most likely be lost, but the rest of the costs could be recouped if the project moves forward in the future, Suiter said.

The accommodation tax money that was allocated for the project and not been spent will go back into reserves.

"Any funds that have been unspent on the second sheet of ice will go back into the accommodations tax fund that is held separately from our general fund,” said Kim Weber, the city’s finance director.

Weber said city council members will discuss how to reallocate those funds at a council retreat in December.

"I still have kids that are practicing at 10 at night on school nights," Shea said. "We have wonderful programs and wonderful opportunities for kids, and I think this is the beauty of public-private partnerships … how do we collectively get creative and collectively get around the table to find solutions? Because, right now, we know the need is there."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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