Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and city forge arrangement to help fund city’s Blue Line
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After backing out on a previous deal weeks ago, the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has agreed to provide $92,000 to help fund the Steamboat Springs Transit’s Blue Line, which takes riders through downtown, West Steamboat and the ski area.
The funding from Ski Corp. will supplement $150,000 from the Colorado Department of Transportation that was awarded to the city specifically for transit during COVID-19 through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act.
“That gets us back to where we were, and gives us an opportunity to collaborate and get us through the rest of the season,” said Ski Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman at Tuesday’s Steamboat Springs City Council meeting.
Ski Corp. had offered to cover half the cost of the Blue Line this summer after council members expressed concern they would not be able to fund it due to projected losses in sales revenue due to COVID-19. In October, the city and Ski Corp. came to an agreement to each pay about $242,000 to preserve the transit line. An official contract was not signed.
Then in late December, City Manager Gary Suiter told council that Perlman had contacted him to let him know Ski Corp. would not be able to fulfill the agreement due to financial losses at the resort stemming from COVID-19 restrictions.
“Things went from bad to worse,” Perlman said of the season, adding Ski Corp. planned to see a 20% decline in revenue from the 2020 season but has so far seen closer to 30%.
“We wanted to put ourselves in a position to get through this pandemic, so we could come out full steam ahead on the other side of this,” he said.
Perlman said when Ski Corp. and the city first discussed transit funding in August, “we were in a much more optimistic place.”
Many council members expressed frustration with what they felt was a lack of communication from Ski Corp.
“I am not happy about the situation we’re in, and I’m very unhappy with the fact that we’re going to have to utilize funding that should have been used to help fund summer as well as our bus drivers’ housing,” said council member Heather Sloop, referencing the funding from the state that council members hoped to use for other purposes. “I’m appreciative of the offer. My concern with using CARES Act funding is we could have used that money for more dire needs.”
Other council members said while they were disappointed with the way Ski Corp. handled the situation, they believed the city was in no place to refuse help in funding transit.
“It’s the best option for us to get through the wintertime,” said council member Robin Crossan. “The fact that someone has now come forward and offered to help, I don’t think we should say ’no’ to that.”
Council member Michael Buccino expressed a different view, claiming the city should have shared more of the burden to fund the transit.
“My colleagues made it a private company’s responsibility to fund this shortfall,” he said. “It should have been led by the City Council and not by a private company to fund this.”
Several community members spoke during the council’s public comment section and testified to Steamboat Resort’s generous community donations throughout COVID-19.
“They fund incredibly generous contributions to the community,” said Tim Wohlgenant, executive director of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. “They donate about $1.5 million to nonpfrofits every year, and Ski Corp. employees sit on more than 20 nonprofit boards.”
Sarah Floyd, executive director of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, said Steamboat Resort “has not waivered in its support of the Winter Sports Club throughout this time.”
“It has never been more important to get kids outside and on the snow, and they’ve been very supportive,” she added.
While council members applauded Ski Corp. for supporting nonprofits, several said that did not make up for what they said was lack of communication in December and what many believed should be a shared responsibility between the city and the resort, as many resort employees rely on the Blue Line to get back and forth from work.
“At this point, we’re charged with moving not only employees but visitors of the Ski Corp.,” said council member Kathi Meyer. “I thought we had a true partnership, and I’m extremely disappointed with the way this went down.”
All council members agreed the Blue Line was essential, but said they wanted a larger discussion on its long-term funding, which many agreed could be supported by a potential lift tax on the resort.
“We need to step up and have the hard conversation about the lift tax,” Sloop said.
Perlman told the council he could be supportive of a lift tax, so council asked Suiter and City Finance Director Kim Weber to research the matter in advance of in-depth discussion in February.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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