Our view: Old Town Hot Springs has always been Steamboat’s rec center
Twice in this century well-intentioned citizen-led initiatives to build a grand new municipal recreation center in Steamboat Springs have been unsuccessful in gaining the financial support of the broader community. In spite of the documented desire for such amenities as indoor swimming pools and public gymnasiums, efforts to build these facilities, which would have cost tens of millions of dollars, have never moved forward.
The latest ballot initiative to go to the voters was in 2007 when proponents sought funding for a $34 million rec center, which was ultimately rejected by almost 80 percent of the voters. And Steamboat Today has reported in the past that over the long term, the greatest cost of a municipal recreation center isn’t building it but staffing and maintaining it.
However, none of that means that our community doesn’t need expanded indoor recreational facilities. And that’s why we feel so fortunate that the nonprofit Old Town Hot Springs is raising the needed money to add 15,000 square feet to the existing 20,000-square-foot facility at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Third Street in downtown Steamboat.
Steamboat is fortunate to have several private sector fitness centers well spaced around the city, but we believe Old Town Hot Springs is, and always has been, Steamboat’s community recreation center.
So, it’s significant that the hot springs has launched a fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $3 million this year for phase one and another $6 million by 2020 to complete the expansion. Plans envision a glass-enclosed climbing wall, an expanded weight training facility and a versatile 425-square-foot room for spin classes, among other improvements. We are impressed that Old Town Hot Springs has already set aside $3 million from its operational revenues to self-fund a third of the project.
Old Town Hot Springs has also submitted an application to the city of Steamboat Springs for $1 million in accommodation tax dollars, which are dedicated to supporting above-ground tourist amenities. We think that the case for the hot springs being a draw for vacationers should be easy to make.
When approaching the committee overseeing the lodging tax, Old Town Hot Springs board of directors President Rich Lowe, project manager Pat Carney and Executive Director Stephanie Orozco will be prepared to back up their claim that of the 300,000 people who walk into the facility annually, 80,000 are visitors from out of town.
To be very clear, Old Town Hot Springs is not tax supported and doesn’t receive funding or help in operating the facility from the city. And in a community with just over 12,000 permanent residents, it already has 7,000 members. An annual family membership costs $999, and it’s $594 for individuals with several other options.
When we pause to think about what it would cost for the city of Steamboat Springs to begin from scratch to build an alternative to Old Town Hot Springs, we think devoting lodging tax dollars to its expansion is an easy decision to make.
And that’s before you even consider that the natural geothermal hot springs at the heart of the facility have been woven into the culture of this special place in the Rocky Mountains since before the first European settlers appeared on the scene.
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