Keeping fit, pumping up for the future at Steamboat’s Old Town Hot Springs
Rich Lowe can’t tell you exactly what he would like the Old Town Hot Springs to look like 20 years from now, but he wants to make sure the Steamboat Springs landmark, which acts as a gateway to downtown, will still be here, and thriving.
“It’s a big part of this community,” Lowe said. “We have 7,000 members in a town that’s just north of 12,000 people. More than half the population of Steamboat are members here — this is a very important community asset.”
Lowe, who has been on the board since 2009, has been working closely with project manager Pat Carney, Executive Director Stephanie Orozco and other board members on the Old Town Hot Springs’ latest capitol expansion.
The group is currently working to raise the money needed to add 15,000 square feet to the existing 20,000-square-foot building. The project would include more room for classes, an expanded weight room, a climbing wall and an indoor walking track.
“It positions us to take care of our members and the visitors who come here and use the facility,” Lowe said. “Right now, on some days and at some times, it’s very crowded and busy.”
Orozco said the $9 million expansion project at Old Town Hot Springs is about more than adding a few bells and whistles. She said it’s about meeting the future needs of the community the facility serves.
“This community drives what we do here,” she said. “The new space is a big part of it. I think what we do today, compared to what we can do in two years, touches every part of the community.”
With that in mind, Orozco is hoping the capital improvement campaign will be supported by the community.
“In order to come up with the plans, Pat and I created every iteration of this (plan) that you can possibly imagine,” Orozco said. “We looked at our member base and their needs. We have met with all of our community partners including Boys and Girls Club, STARS, Horizons and a long list of others to see how we can serve them in five years, and we looked at the visitor piece, as well — because the visitors are a very important part of what we do, and they allow us to keep the prices down. This plan is a combination of all that.”
Lowe said the board and staff have also met with specific focus groups during the past few years to assess what other needs there might be and how the Old Town Hot Springs can address them for years to come.
The group acknowledges there is not an exact vision of what the downtown facility will look like in 20 years, but members are convinced this summer’s capital campaign will be an important step in making sure Old Town Hot Springs will be there, serving the community.
Keeping up with the times
Carney, who acted as executive director for the Steamboat Health and Recreation Association and Old Town Hot Springs for 40 years, took on a new role as project manager in April, hoping to use her experience and leadership to guide the organization through its latest evolution.
When she first arrived at the Old Town Hot Springs, it was known as the Steamboat Health and Recreation Association. The facility included a small building, which provided an office and a couple of locker rooms, and a hot pool that was popular with locals and visitors.
The population of Steamboat Springs at that time was 2,000 people, and the pool was struggling to make payments on a loan it had taken out to replace the old bath house that was condemned by the health department.
“We struggled every year to make the payment,” longtime board member Bud Romberg said. “It got to a point that, one year, all we could do was pay the interest, and the next year, we could not pay anything.”
But Romberg said things turned around shortly after Carney arrived, and he credits her management for helping the pool gain its financial footing.
The outside appearance of the pool continued to improve, and in the 1980s, investments in the facility were made. Hot water from the springs was piped into the large outdoor lap pool, which allowed the pool to open year-round in 1980.
A waterslide was added to the pool in 1981 to bring in additional revenue, and in 1983, an upstairs was added to the building. That space became a fitness area. The downstairs was expanded to include a lobby and more lockers.
The Old Town Hot Springs renovated its hot pools and added a slide tower in 2007, and in 2012, the lobby was remodeled. The money for those improvements came from the Old Town Hot Springs, which took out a loan to pay for some of the later improvements.
At the time, the board discussed whether it should improve the facility’s water amenities or invest money to expand the fitness side of the business. The board elected to address the water side of things first, since the hot pools needed to be improved.
The group had hoped to address its fitness needs in 2009, but the recession stalled those plans.
“We started with a little bit of fitness back in 1983,” Carney said. “It kind of exploded in the 1990s, and we discovered that the two things (water and fitness) really complement one another. Truth is that one without the other really doesn’t work.”
Bang for the buck
Old Town Hot Springs has spent years evaluating and planning an expansion that will nearly double the size of the current facility and update its exterior.
Carney is hoping the expansion will begin in the spring and be completed by January 2019.
The new part of the building will bump out into the parking lot and slightly change the facility’s Lincoln Avenue entrance.
The new addition will be added to the front side of the existing building and will include a 39-foot climbing wall enclosed in glass and a 425-square-foot spin room, which can be divided for other uses when the classes are not full in the summer. A functional training room and a conference room with a kitchen are also part of the plans.
The second floor of the new addition will house two group classrooms, an expanded weight room and a technogym. The entire space will be encircled by a walking track.
Raising the bar, money
The group has already raised close to $3 million for the capital improvement project and is aggressively campaigning to raise the rest of the money by February in order to break ground next summer.
It’s not an easy task in today’s financially cautious world, and Carney understands the challenge.
Carney said the planned expansion will not raise fees, which normally increase 2 to 3 percent each year to keep up with inflation. One of the long-held principles at the Old Town Hot Springs, Carney said, is to keep rates for locals as low as possible and to make sure that people who want to use the facility can afford to do that.
An annual family membership is $999 and an individual membership is $594. There’s also a couples memberships for $923 and a family membership (one adult) for $698, as well as senior and youth options. Members can also elect to pay monthly, however it’s cheaper to pay in full at the start of the year.
Carney said another challenge faced by the facility is that a lot of people in the community don’t understand that Old Town Hot Springs is not tax supported and doesn’t receive funding or help in operating the facility from the city.
The Old Town Hot Springs board does intend to submit a proposal to request lodging tax dollars to help fund the expansion campaign. The group said it will come armed with statistics showing that 80,000 of the 300,000 people who walk through the doors of the facility each year are out-of-town visitors.
“I think the city sometimes looks at us as a satisfier as opposed to a true tourist driver,” Lowe said. “I’m not sure that there are a lot of other entities, beside the ski area, that have this many visitors coming through the door. These people are looking for amenities and other things to do in town. They may have come here for some other event, but once they get here, they are looking for something to do — and that’s what we offer.”
Nobody can predict what Old Town Hot Springs is going to look like 10, 15 or 20 years from now, but Carney believes ensuring the facility is still operating and serving locals and visitors is important.
“What would it be like if we were not here? That’s the question I would ask,” Carney said. ”People just take us for granted — we’ve always been here, we have always done fine and we make so much money. We make a lot of money, but most of it goes right out the door to operate this facility.”
That’s why the board has been saving money in reserves, and that’s why she and the board have launched a capital campaign this summer.
“We are unique as a nonprofit, because we are not out asking the community for major donations every year,” Lowe said. “I would think the community would be behind us — this is such a cool place.”
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