Our View: Big plans for Howelsen
When City Manager Gary Suiter said he was “pumped up” about the latest conceptual plan for historic Howelsen Hill, we found ourselves sharing his enthusiasm.
The thought of Howelsen becoming home to zip lines, a tubing hill and even a 200-seat restaurant with an outdoor deck is an exciting prospect. We think adding those kind of amenities at the iconic ski hill is a good way to increase its use, while also generating revenue to support operations there, which have historically been a drain on city resources.
In our opinion, Howelsen is Steamboat’s underutilized and under-marketed jewel, and in order to ensure its future, the city must find a way to make the hill cash flow positive, or at least find a way to generate revenue to break even. The latest conceptual plan for Howelsen is a promising one, and we hope it doesn’t suffer an early demise and end up sitting on a shelf in city hall.
We’d also note that any new amenities added at Howelson must respect the area’s historic character, and no one is advocating the hill be converted into a carnival grounds.
The latest plan, which includes between $7.2 and $7.8 million worth of potential improvements, was created by a Vermont-based ski area planning firm, and it was presented to the Steamboat Springs City Council last week.
In addition to the aforementioned amenities, the plan also includes construction of 6,000 additional square feet of clubhouse space for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, creation of a museum and the addition of a new chairlift to give mountain bikers easier access to the Emerald Mountain trails.
The price tag for all the improvements is hefty, but we think the timing of the plan is fortuitous as the city continues to explore the possibility of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. taking over operations at Howelsen Hill. In particular, we’re intrigued by the idea of expanding Olympian Hall to include a new restaurant.
The ski area has been operating food service operations at the city-owned Haymaker Golf Course for a number of years now, and it’s been a beneficial partnership. We could see the same type of relationship unfold at a new restaurant at the base of Howelsen Hill.
The restaurant would serve as a great amenity for families of Winter Sports Club members or other athletes competing here from out of town. They could enjoy a meal, appetizers or a cold drink while watching their youngsters fly down the face of the ski mountain. The restaurant could also draw more visitors to Howelsen and introduce them to a piece of Steamboat’s rich history.
As the city studies future plans for Howelsen, we believe it’s essential that the council make every effort to maintain the city’s long-term relationship with the Winter Sports Club and keep the partnership strong and beneficial to both parties.
In that vein, we were happy to learn this week that the city is extending its existing joint-use agreement with the Winter Sports Club for another year to allow the discussion about Howelsen’s future to focus on the community’s support for the hill, including ideas for funding improvements there.
We are not alone in our support of Howelsen. According to the 2017 community survey, 70 percent of respondents said maintenance and capital improvements for Howelsen Hill should be an important focus area for the city. That kind of support, coupled with a potential partnership with Ski Corp., gives us hope that the city can come up with a solution that solidifies the future of Howelsen for decades to come.
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