Our View: Empty inns get new life
Imagine this scenario — the community of Steamboat Springs establishes a goal to build an affordable, transitional workforce housing facility. The building must have the capacity to house 60 to 90 people for several months until they can secure permanent housing. It would need to be located near a transit stop, a grocery store, a bank, the post office and restaurants, and by the way, the city has no intention of purchasing the property itself.
Faced with a list of “must-haves” like that, the price tag to construct a housing project of that magnitude from the ground up would soar into the millions. And the timeline to get the project built would be lengthy.
By contrast, consider the creative solution two private sector businesses came up with to solve the workforce housing crunch themselves. Resort Group, a local property management company, secured housing for its seasonal workers by leasing the empty 33-room Alpiner Lodge on Lincoln Avenue in an arrangement similar to the one the Sheraton Steamboat Resort entered into with the city to lease 23 rooms at the Iron Horse Inn.
Both lease agreements were prompted by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.’s need to fill The Ponds at Steamboat condominiums with its own employees, another signal that the employee housing situation is tightening.
In the past, seasonal workers employed by hotels and management groups could lease at The Ponds or find affordable housing options elsewhere.
According to Resort Group President Mark Walker and Sheraton General Manager Dan Pirrallo, the housing situation in Steamboat is becoming a large problem for employers trying to hire qualified workers and the ability to lease rooms at defunct hotels was a way around the issue this winter.
Although we believe the agreement between Resort Group and the owners of Alpiner Lodge is an inventive fix to the pressing problem of accessible workforce housing, it is not without issues.
The use of the motel for transitional housing appears to violate city codes, and that is a hurdle that still needs to be overcome. It would have been better if the motel owners had approached the city first about their intentions to lease the rooms to Resort Group to determine if the use complied with city ordinances, and if not, then gone through the proper channels to find a solution.
Zoning codes are established to protect all property owners from improper use of neighboring properties, and the city has a responsibility to uphold and enforce those ordinances. But we do hope the city can find a way to say “yes” to the present use of the Alpiner by working with the owners to get them into compliance with city codes.
A hotel that was sitting empty in downtown Steamboat is now being used for a good purpose by providing rooms for employed workers.
Private companies leasing defunct hotels to house their employees is a short-term solution to a long-term problem, but it establishes a precedent that we embrace. We’d like to see focused attention given to a workforce housing situation that only will grow tighter this summer and next ski season.
And an emphasis on solutions that consider incentivizing private investment and supporting private-public partnerships is a great place to start.
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