Proposed Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club facility at Howelsen Hill gets new life
When city staff advised against approving a land-use agreement between the city and the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club in July 2021, it seemed like the program’s hopes for a new strength and conditioning facility near the base of Howelsen Hill were dashed.
However, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, City Council members were vocal about revisiting the proposal, possibly as early as Jan. 3.
After an internal review process, city staff wrote a formal recommendation on Oct. 12 not to authorize a land-use agreement between the city and SSWSC for a strength and conditioning facility to be built on public property at the base of Howelsen Hill, but City Council members were informed they still have the option to call the project back up.
Staff did recommend, however, that the project be reviewed by the city’s Historical Preservation Committee before bringing it back before council because Howelsen Hill is designated as a historical site by Routt County and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.
City Council tentatively put the strength and conditioning facility on the agenda for Jan. 3, but if the Historic Preservation Committee can’t squeeze in a review before then, City Council will push the appointment back.
City Council’s discussion about the project on Tuesday was not a scheduled agenda item, but was preceded by several public comments from supporters of the strength and conditioning facility.
Mick Dierdorff, who competed in snowboard cross during the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics, asked council to reconsider the proposal.
“When I was in the club 12 years ago, our facilities were too small and everyone was out on the fields and training,” Dierdorff said. “We‘ve been fighting for space in the gym, and when I heard about the possibility of this facility, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly what this community needs.’”
The project would also need to reappear before the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which approved an earlier conceptual design 6-1, but changes have been made to the design since then.
“The location is the same,” said Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby. “The size of the building, what it includes is a bit different.”
Cosby informed council that the commission meetings are being scheduled into March, as her staff has been busy reviewing the city’s e-bike, river recreation and off-leash dog area policies. She said the commission could make time earlier if City Council was comfortable pushing other agenda items back, which council didn’t recommend.
In the meantime, City Council also wants to engage the community to get a better idea of what local residents want.
The results of the Steamboat Springs Community Engagement Survey are expected to be released on Monday, Nov. 21. The survey includes questions related to improvements at Howelsen Hill, but council member Michael Buccino also said he wants town hall discussions about the project.
“If there‘s some way that we can do it outside of the chamber that‘s here, but an open forum, town hall, old fashioned, where we get to be part of our community and hear what they have to say because this formal process is stifling our community‘s emotion,” Buccino said.
City Council President Robin Crossan agreed with Buccino, but said more information about the project needs to be gathered before such a forum can take place.
“You have to be able to give the community all of the facts,” Crossan said.
City Manager Gary Suiter entered the conversation and compared the situation to a “chicken and egg,” saying that it’ll be difficult to approve the project in such a conceptual state, but asking SSWSC to invest more resources to iron out the design means asking the club to take on a greater financial risk.
“Do we really know what the traffic impacts are going to be?” Suiter asked. “Do we know what the parking impacts are going to be? Do we know what the visual impacts are going to be? It’s hard to calculate all of those things.”
The proposed land-use agreement SSWSC is seeking would allow the club to build a facility at the corner of the parking lot where a restroom and gazebo are located.
Officials at the winter sports club promised to replace the restrooms and pay for relocating the gazebo, and said they are willing to work with the city and be flexible with the project, even if that means building the facility in another spot.
“The current space was recommended by Parks and Recreation staff, but we are open to discussion and look forward to discussion about other possible locations at Howelsen Hill,” said SSWSC Executive Director Sarah Floyd.
The internal review process that yielded the recommendation was amended shortly before addressing the sports club’s proposal. Under the new guidelines, proposals for private projects on city property are reviewed by members across all the city’s departments, and the guidelines place extra emphasis on the proposed project’s alignment with the city’s master plans, goals, staff capacity and the project’s ability to serve the whole community.
Floyd said the facility would be aimed to serve all local youth, not just the ones in long-term programs.
“We would welcome a partnership with the schools, and really for high school kids in general, to have another facility that they could utilize,” Floyd said, who added that the facility would have a traditional gym space that could take the load off Old Town Hot Springs, where many local teenagers go to exercise.
City Council didn’t make any formal decision on Tuesday but will likely review the land-use proposal during a future meeting.
“We’re not delaying,” said Council Member Heather Sloop. “We’re looking for public engagement.”
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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