Steamboat City Council wants to hire someone to focus on the future of Howelsen Hill

Parking and traffic studies could commence as early as this spring

Friends and Steamboat residents Taylor Karlin, bottom, Katie Blair, Riley Birk, Mariana Cevallos and Jason Blair, top, ski down the Upper Face at Howelsen Hill on the last day of the season on April 3, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Recognizing the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation department is already overburdened with projects, City Council members indicated on Tuesday, Jan. 3, that they favor bringing in additional personnel this year to explore the future of Howelsen Hill.

Whether that person would be another full-time employee or someone brought in on a contract basis was not been decided, but the decision means an extended process to explore the future of the city’s flagship amenity will not be delayed indefinitely, as city staff had recommended.

Council also directed staff to get traffic and parking studies of the complex started as soon as possible, as those will likely take at least a year to complete.

“We’ll come back with some budgetary estimates,” City Manager Gary Suiter said.

Tuesday’s discussion was prompted by a request from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to build a strength and conditioning facility at Howelsen Hill. This would require the use of city land, and city staff recommended council not pursue that venture last year, though council members revived those talks in November.

Sarah Floyd, executive director of SSWSC, emphasized that Tuesday’s conversation was about the process and not about a building concept, and she urged council not to delay the process.

“Tonight is really about the future of improvements at Howelsen Hill,” Floyd said.

Prior to Tuesday’s discussion, Floyd said SSWSC’s proposal is essentially back at square one. She said SSWSC is open to any type of building on any part of Howelsen Hill the city deems appropriate and the Winter Sports Club is willing to partner with other users to make it happen.

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Floyd also said she agreed with the long process city officials have laid out and felt the conversation among user groups was essential to moving forward.

The process proposed by city staff could take as long as 16 months to complete and would start with yearlong parking and traffic studies. City Public Works Director Jon Snyder said he could get a proposal for those studies out rather quickly, but other parts of the process would require significant time from city staff, largely from the Parks and Recreation department.

Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson said that along with the studies, the city wanted to gather all of Howelsen Hill’s main user groups to better understand their future plans and how those might be meshed together. He said a consultant would likely facilitate this process. Other users include Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo, which plans to expand as well.

In addition to the consultant Leeson described, the added person council members indicated they wanted would work on both the SSWSC project and other priorities for Parks and Recreation.

If this person is a new full-time employee, Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby estimated it could cost the city as much as $150,000 a year for salary and benefits, as it would likely be a higher-level position.

Suiter urged council to consider creating a new position in the context of at least 10 other personnel requests council nixed while formulating the 2023 budget. He indicated he agreed with council member Heather Sloop, who lobbied for council to pursue this additional person on a contract basis and not as a new city employee.

This person would also be involved in the third aspect of staff’s proposed process, which is engaging the community on what they hope to see in Howelsen’s future. This would include a community survey that would more directly target improvements than previous public polls.

The needed studies hope to start this spring to gather a year’s worth of data that includes both summer and winter usage of the park. The charette process would take place this summer and fall, with the public outreach portion commencing in the spring of 2024.

“It is a process way longer than we ever expected,” Floyd said, thanking council for their decision. “The goal is 50 or 100 years from now we’ve done the right thing.”

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