Our view: Howelsen agreement worth the wait
After two years of negotiations, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club have reached an agreement on how the two entities will work together to operate Howelsen Hill Ski Area.
It took considerable time for this agreement to be ironed out, but we think the end result was worth the effort and worth the wait.
Kudos to council members Robin Crossan and Heather Sloop for representing the city during negotiations with the Winter Sports Club. The two, along with City Manager Gary Suiter and City Attorney Dan Foote, spent many hours outside of regular council meetings to help forge an arrangement that was palatable to all parties involved.
Their willingness to invest that sort of time underscores the city’s commitment to the historic ski hill and also demonstrates the city’s desire to continue its decades-long partnership with the Winter Sports Club, which we believe is valuable to the community as a whole and at one time seemed to be a relationship at risk.
We also appreciate the efforts of the Winter Sports Club management and members of the club’s board and foundation, who stayed engaged in the process and were willing to participate in years of meetings to bring the agreement across the finish line.
The updated agreement, which council is set to ratify this month, clearly delineates the responsibilities of the city and the Winter Sports Club as it pertains to ski hill operations. There are no grey areas, and the document governs how the money budgeted by the city for Howelsen will be spent.
Under the agreement, the city will continue to budget approximately $600,000 a year for Howelsen operations, and the Winter Sports Club will contribute $100,000 annually for capital improvements. The city’s financial commitment does not represent new fiscal obligations but instead limits the nature and extent of the city’s maintenance obligations.
All practicalities of operating the ski hill are spelled out in the agreement from snowmaking to grooming to lift operations, and ongoing maintenance responsibilities are also detailed. The agreement also makes it very clear how the city and the Winter Sports Club are to share use of the complex going forward, and it helps protect public access to the hill. Specifically, the club will not be allowed to schedule competitions or other exclusive-use events unless agreed upon in advance with the city manager.
In addition to more clearly guiding operations at Howelsen, the agreement serves as a catalyst for continued communication between the city and the Winter Sports Club. A clause in the agreement calls for the document to be reviewed annually during which time both parties will discuss cost of services and pricing as well as joint fundraising campaigns and grant funding opportunities for future capital projects, including a permanent fix for the troubled Barrows chairlift.
The agreement not only builds goodwill but is also fiscally responsible and clearly lays out expectations for maintaining and operating our iconic downtown ski area for at least the next 10 years. This division of responsibilities provides clear direction and allows the city to pursue a strategic, sustainable plan for Howelsen into the future.
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