Steamboat Springs City Council moves forward on ballot measure to reallocate 2A funding

A man bikes down the Blackmere Trail on Emerald Mountain.

After nearly two hours of discussion, Steamboat Springs City Council directed city staff to continue exploring the reallocation of the 1% accommodations tax with a majority of the revenue earmarked for destination marketing and management.

The tax, which the lodging industry pays, was originally passed in 1986 to fund “development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs, which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premiere destination resort.” And then in 2013, voters approved a 10-year reallocation of the funds to build trails around town and help finance improvements along Yampa Street.

If council chooses to move forward, voters would be asked to consider repurposing the money starting in 2023.

City staff and Steamboat Chamber CEO Kara Stoller said the marketing piece of the funds would help support businesses, which have struggled throughout COVID-19, by bringing more visitors to town.

“This would enable our community to respond to economic shifts,” Stoller said. “This is a tried and true strategy for funding destination marketing.”

In response, several council members said they were weary of spending more money on marketing, as community members continue to express they feel overwhelmed by the high levels of tourism coming to town.

“The question that continues to come up is, are we doing management and marketing for the community or are we doing it to the community?” council member Heather Sloop said. “How do we manage tourism in a more equatable way where everyone wins — the business owner, the tourist and the person that lives here that is the teacher or the police officer?”

Jon Wade was one of the community members who spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting and said he believed the community has experienced too much tourism over the past several years.

“Our town is full, and summers are getting too busy for many people,” said Wade, real estate broker and owner of The Steamboat Group.

Wade also said the number of visitors purchasing property and becoming full-time residents has driven up housing costs and contributed the inability of many businesses to hire and retain employees due to a shortage of affordable housing.

“If we’re trying to market for more business, but we don’t have the employees to service those businesses, we’re kind of breaking our own back and were lowering that quality of life,” Wade said. “I may lose some friends, but I’m going to call it as I see it and say you’re going to have a really hard time passing this measure.”

Other community members, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, said they believed marketing was essential to Steamboat maintaining its status as a desirable vacation destination.

“We are, in fact, a destination,” said Dan Parrillo, general manager at Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas. “Most of the individuals who ultimately end up moving here or coming here long term have come here during a vacation or time away, and we need to sustain that environment.”

Council members emphasized the focus on destination management in addition to marketing, which could include river rangers, education campaigns and other measures to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism.

“For me, the management piece of this is really key,” Council President Jason Lacy said. “That’s the piece of this funding where we can really help mitigate the impacts the community is feeling.”

Council member Robin Crossan echoed Lacy’s sentiment and said Steamboat will continue to grow regardless of what the voters decide, so council should focus its efforts on preserving the city and ensuring it is not “overrun” by tourists.

“The only way to move forward is if we can manage the growth better as it comes in, and I believe this is a way we can do it,” Crossan said.

While council members emphasized the funding would not be funneled straight to the Chamber, it would likely control some of it, and Stoller presented council with a list of programs the organization would like to implement if the funding is passed.

Specifically, Stoller wrote in a letter to council, the chamber would use the funding to support a visitor education guide, recreation management, communication about capacity at pinch points and creation of technological resources to house all information.

The letter was written in conjunction with the Chamber’s Collaborative Funding Committee, which includes Rob Perlman, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. president and COO; Robin Craigen, co-founder and president of Moving Mountains; Katie Brown, Ski Corp. vice president of sales and marketing; Ted Carey, Steamboat Free Summer Concert board president; Scott Marr, owner of Holiday Inn of Steamboat; Deb Olsen, owner of Ski Town publications; Rex Brice, owner of Rex’s Family of Restaurants; Mark Walker, president of the Resort Group; and Parrillo.

Staff recommended council consider repurposing the 2A funds with 80% of the funding earmarked for destination marketing and management and 20% for maintenance and improvement of amenities that support tourism.

“I really can’t support 80% for destination management,” council member Sonja Macys said. “I think that’s too restrictive on council, and council should have more discretion over how those funds should be used.”

With the Chamber asking for 100% of the funding, some council members wanted to know whether or not the Chamber would still provide support for a proposed 2-mill property tax if the city chooses to spend less money on destination marketing and management.

“We would like to see all of it going to those two elements (destination marketing and management),” Stoller said. “If there is a small component that’s earmarked for maintenance, that’s something we’d definitely be willing to talk to you about.”

Council members directed staff to bring the issue back for more discussion and possible first reading of an ordinance to place the issue on the November ballot during the June 15 meeting.

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