Sweating the details | SteamboatToday.com

Sweating the details

Creating a new public rec center will take creative collaboration

This community that loves to work hard and especially play hard may not be big enough to support a full-service public recreation center — one that might cost $7.25 million fully equipped. And the best chance to build a new rec center could result from a partnership between the city of Steamboat Springs and Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association.

Those are among the findings of a feasibility study conducted to determine if there’s sufficient interest in Steamboat for a rec center, and what the financial challenges would be.

The city’s director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services, Chris Wilson, told City Council this week that financial issues will be primary if the project goes forward.

“There is strong support for a new recreation center in Steamboat Springs, as the existing facilities in the area are unable to meet all the current needs,” Wilson said. “It is clear that the people want the center to be affordable, are willing to look at some level of operations subsidy (fees), but are unsure of the support for a tax increase for the project funding.

“A public/private not-for-profit partnership may make this more feasible sooner,” Wilson added.

Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association is a not-for-profit of historic significance to the community, and built around geothermally-heated outdoor pools in downtown Steamboat. It also incorporates extensive exercise facilities. The Health and Recreation Association is open to visitors and the general public, as well as to locals on a daily basis, or by membership.

Health and Recreation Association Board President Jill Leary said Tuesday the subject of a partnership has been discussed, but no decision has been made to go that route. The association had its annual meeting Monday night and the subject of forming a partnership was not discussed.

Leary said the board has looked at a variety of ways to expand on its site, including enquiring about the possibility of obtaining the downtown post office site if it should move. However, Postal Service officials indicated they have no plans to move.

Before proceeding with a second, more detailed study of a rec center, Wilson recommends more study of the potential for a partnership. City leaders, the health and rec board and members of the community need to meet further to find out if a joint effort might go forward and on what basis, he said. That group could put together a proposal for City Council’s consideration and for circulation in a public forum, Wilson suggests. If there’s consensus, the time might be right to undertake a more thorough study of design, fiscal issues and location.

The study was paid for by the city of Steamboat Springs and a citizens group, the Recreation and Wellness Center Initiative. The city contributed $10,000 and the initiative supplied $2,500 in the form of a grant from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. The money was used to retain Ballard King and Associates of Aurora, which also consulted with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture.

All emotions aside
Wilson believes the feasibility study succeeded in removing emotions from the discussion over the rec center, and focused participants on the realities they faced.

“The study said, here really are the facts and figures — these are your demographics,” Wilson said. “It crystallized a lot of the ideas that are out there.”

Wilson said the study left him with the conclusion that the community, without some form of partnership, could not subsidize a stand-alone rec center like those currently being built in other communities. Some of the new rec centers in Front Range communities feature indoor aquatic fun centers with slides and streams, he added.

After several rounds of public consultation in Steamboat, the consulting firms based their report on a 37,000-square-foot building that would include a six-lane indoor pool and a gymnasium large enough to allow two full basketball or volleyball courts. It also would tentatively include a multipurpose room with a modest stage and a catering kitchen. There would be space for a teen gathering place, two racquetball courts and locker rooms.

Building such a facility would have cost about $6 million in 1999. Adding in the costs of design work and equipment like furniture would boost the costs to $7.25 million.

The cost of the facility to the community would not end with construction.

Building a rec center here also would likely result in an annual shortfall in its operating budget that could easily stretch into six figures.

“Operating expenditure and revenue estimates for the center indicate that the facility will operate at a substantial deficit each year,” Ken Ballard reported.

Based on a set of assumptions about how often people would use the facility, and what kinds of fees they would be willing to pay, Ballard projected annual revenues of about $418,000 against an operating budget of more than $700,000, leaving a potential shortfall of about $290,000.

If the rec center is to be built at all, Ballard predicts, it will require that the city find partners willing to join in the effort. And the most likely partner is the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Association.

“The size and magnitude of a project of this nature will require a broad base of support and funding beyond the limits of the city and county,” Ballard wrote in his report.

Financial viability
Ballard added that a partnership would build a greater foundation for the center to increase public acceptance and become financially viable. Given that the Health and Recreation Center has preliminary plans for expansion, Ballard said a partnership with the city would be ideal for both entities.

“The possible integration of both facilities at the existing Health (and) Recreation site or a new location elsewhere in the city could benefit both entities and provide more cost-effective services to the community,” Ballard wrote.

Health and Recreation Association Director Pat Carney said her organization intends to continue working closely with the city as the discussion continues. But there are many issues to be resolved. For example, if the group definitely decides on a large gymnasium as part of a new rec center, it could not fit on the present Health and RecreationCenter site.

“We’re trying to figure out what our long-range growth plan is, and how they fit in with those plans,” Carney said. She agreed with Wilson that economic issues are significant. She pointed out that new rec centers in Breckenridge and Silverthorne require large city subsidies of their annual operating budget. And facilities like gymnasiums and indoor pools are not moneymakers — user fees cannot support them.

The bulk of the operating budget, more than $500,000, would result from personnel costs, according to Ballard. Five full-time workers would be required to manage and run the facility. Based on projecting city pay scales to 2003, the salaries plus benefits for the five full-time employees would cost more than $200,000. Those figures don’t include a program coordinator, which might be needed. Ballard said that would add another $40,000 to personnel costs.

By far the largest source of revenues would be admissions, at about $365,000 to start. That projection is calculated for purposes of the study, based upon a full schedule of fees with different prices for locals and nonresidents. There are different price breaks for multiple visits, monthly and annual passes. But the very tentative fee schedule, done for purposes of the study only, reflects daily base rates of $2.50 for children younger than 18 and seniors older than 62, and $3.50 for adults. The city hasn’t decided to build a rec center, let alone what the eventual fees for locals might be.

The projections also predict almost 90,000 visits annually, or about 257 a day, based on 350 days of operation annually.

Tourism dollars
Ballard concluded that it might be necessary to draw from tourism in order to support the rec center. But the study also reports that residents who took part in surveys and meetings on the rec center want it to emphasize the needs of locals. The few people who attended public meetings on the subject, and the 320 people who filled out related surveys, agreed the emphasis at the rec center should be on local residents and their families.

Those surveyed also agreed by a margin of 2 to 1, that their indoor recreation needs are not being met by the existing facilities in the community.

Ballard is recommending that a second phase of the feasibility study go forward, and the Parks and Recreation Commission has voted its agreement. Wilson said he concurs with the commission’s recommendation, but wants more community discussions to occur first. The second phase would attempt to identify possible project partners, financing options, possible sites, and make recommendations on who would assume responsibility for operating the center.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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