Steamboat city staff recommendation hampers prospects for winter sports facility at Howelsen Hill

The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's proposed Air Awareness Strength and Conditioning Facility could provide a training facility for more than 100 athletes, but city leaders didn't express much support for the plan during a recent City Council meeting.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club/Courtesy image

The chances of a new strength and conditioning facility coming to Howelsen Hill plummeted last week. 

On Oct. 12, Steamboat Springs city staff wrote a formal recommendation saying the city should not authorize a land-use agreement proposed by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which would have allowed for the construction of a 17,000-square-foot facility at the base of Howelsen Hill. 

While the city’s recommendation is not a rejection of the Winter Sports Club’s proposal — as City Council can still call up the project and approve it — the proposed facility’s current design appears to come with some hurdles that may prove insurmountable. 

The recommendation from city staff was issued through a newly created process for reviewing private projects proposed on city land. The new process is meant to establish consistency across the city’s departments and ensure that projects align with the city’s master plans, goals and staff capacity.

After undergoing the review process, the city’s internal review team — consisting of representatives from various city departments — determined the new facility wouldn’t adequately fulfill the public need as defined in Steamboat Springs’ Parks, Recreation, Open Space, Trails and River Comprehensive Master Plan.

The city’s memorandum explaining staff’s decision states: “SSWSC identifies the facility as needed for their membership, but per the PROSTR Plan, it is not identified as a need for the general public.” 

In the project description submitted to the city, the Winter Sports Club pointed out that 51% of students in the Steamboat Springs School District are enrolled in the club’s programs and the number of members needing strength and conditioning training has expanded tenfold since 1999, when the 1,300-square-foot David DeHaven Strength Center was built at the base of Howelsen Hill. 

In 1999, according to the Winter Sports Club, 45 athletes needed strength and conditioning training compared to 450 who currently require that kind of training. During peak hours, athletes must train outside the building or at other facilities in Steamboat such as Old Town Hot Springs, Colorado Mountain College and the Steamboat Mountain School. However, according to the Winter Sports Club, those spaces can’t provide on-snow training. 

The proposed SSWSC Air Awareness Strength and Conditioning Facility preliminary floor plan.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club/Courtesy image

But city staff didn’t think the facility was strongly supported by the community, either. 

In 2018, the city put out a survey to gauge the community’s desire to make Howelsen Park and Ski Hill more attractive and multi-functional. While that survey didn’t ask about the strength and conditioning facility specifically, it did ask how people felt about repurposing ballfields for multi-purpose space, events, and parking and circulation improvements. 

“(The new Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club facility) would be very inconsistent with the results of that survey that we saw,” Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson said. 

While 76% of respondents in that survey said they either strongly support or moderately support basic maintenance of Howelsen Hill amenities, 50% of respondents said they either strongly or moderately support re-purposing two ballfields for multi-purpose space, events and parking improvements. 

Steamboat Springs city staff cited four results to questions in a community survey from 2018 as relevant to their decision on whether to permit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to build a privately funded facility near the base of Howelsen Hill.

But the strength and conditioning facility wouldn’t re-purpose two ballfields and would instead be built over the gazebo, concession stand and nearby restroom facing the Howelsen Hill parking lot. The same community survey also revealed that 75% of respondents felt restrooms were either somewhat or very important. 

At the very least, city staff recommended that if the council members decided to call the project back up for review, the project should be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Committee before a City Council vote. 

Howelsen Hill is listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties and has received a historic designation by Routt County. 

The city’s Historic Preservation Plan lists multiple issues and policies regarding Howelsen Hill, including the size of nearby structures and their color and location. It was a concern among city staff that the new structure would obstruct the view of Howelsen Hill, which hasn’t changed much in over 100 years. 

“Since 1914, the overall setting has changed very little,” states Howelsen Hill’s application for listing on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. “The same view of the hill continues to be maintained from virtually all vantage points within the city limits of Steamboat Springs.”

In the Winter Sports Club’s project description, the club states that the new facility would be in the “transition zone” of Howelsen Hill’s historical designation. The description adds that alternative sites were entertained, but after working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the proposed location was determined to be the most ideal. 

During City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18, council members entertained the idea of calling the project back up when council member Gail Garey asked her colleagues if they would like to reopen the discussion. 

“I think (the Winter Sports Club) may have been caught in the middle of the change of process,” Garey said, later adding that the club is the city’s “valued partners, and we need to make sure that there’s an opportunity for them to make the case.”

Garey and Michael Buccino both supported calling the project back up, but the other five council members weren’t in support of continuing the discussion at this time. 

“Staff did their job,” council member Heather Sloop said. “This is what we pay them to do, so I’m happy with keeping it the way it is.”

Sloop advised the other council members to focus their concerns on the city’s process and not on the outcome itself, saying the project should only be called up if council members feel the process was incorrect, not if they disagree with the outcome.

Some council members admitted to not being fully up to speed with city staff’s recommendation and expressed that they may reconsider calling the project back up at a later date, either because of new insights or because changes were made to the project’s design. 

“We believe there is still an opportunity to discuss our proposal with city staff,” said Sarah Floyd, the executive director for the Winter Sports Club.

According to Floyd, the Winter Sports Club would like to “to respond to (city staff’s) concerns in the initial proposal and adjust (the club’s) proposal based on their feedback.”

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