Winter Sports Club sounds alarm on Howelsen Hill negotiations
Steamboat Springs — Negotiations between the city of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club over the future operations and maintenance of Howelsen Hill appear to be off to a rocky start.
And on Tuesday, the previously private negotiations are poised to spill into the public arena.
Following a private negotiating meeting last week, the Winter Sports Club is rallying its troops and urging them to attend a public work session and show support for the club.
The rallying cry is ultimately part of an attempt to stop the Steamboat Springs City Council from potentially making any major changes to the 28-year-old joint use agreement the club has with the city.
Club leaders are worried changing the agreement could put more of a financial burden on them and their members and negatively impact their use of the city’s historic ski hill.
On the other hand, City Council members and city officials are worried that not changing and updating the agreement could hurt the city and its taxpayers in the future in the event of a costly incident or repair such as a major landslide.
Some council members are specifically seeking more of a financial commitment from the Winter Sports Club and a cap on the city’s maintenance responsibilities.
“I do think the city is just trying to get the Winter Sports Club to pay for an additional amount for the maintenance of the ski area,” Council President Watler Magill said Friday. “We want to keep the ski area. We want to keep them as a partner. We’re just trying to get them to pay their fair share.
“We want success here, but we just can’t have the same operating agreement where the city is open to all the risk,” Magill continued.
Magill added the club wants to continue an operating agreement they’ve had with the city for decades, but “times have changed.”
Club leaders have countered that the cost of them using Howelsen is smaller than some council members have claimed and the city’s cost to support the facility is far outweighed by the positive economic impact the club has on the community.
Sports Club Director Jim Boyne has also questioned why the council is seeking changes to the agreement when there has been no public outcry regarding the city’s level of spending on Howelsen.
The City Council recently decided to seek a new supplemental joint use agreement with the Winter Sports Club that would seek to better define the city’s maintenance and operating responsibilities.
But the city and the club currently aren’t seeing eye to eye on such things as what the ski complex consists of, which could have implications for who will be required to pay for the maintenance of certain areas of Howelsen in the future.
Boyne on Thursday sent out an “urgent message” to club members and supporters urging them to show up to a City Council work session on Tuesday and show support for the club’s future at Howelsen.
The letter was sent out hours after the city’s second negotiating meeting with leaders of the club.
City Manager Gary Suiter described the meeting as rockier than the first.
In the letter, Boyne laid out a few areas the city and the club are not agreeing on in the negotiations.
He said the city “has recently taken the position that our agreement may never have been valid and enforceable due to a technical rule that City Council did not follow at the time it was approved in 1987.”
He added the city believes the ski complex is much smaller than the portion of Howelsen the club has been improving and using for many years, and the city thinks service levels for such items as grooming and snow making should be measured as of 1987 and not today.
“We do not agree with any of these positions, but we are working with the City to find a more balanced solution that is consistent with the promises and representations made……to our community and supporters regarding the benefits of funding projects at Howlesen,” Boyne wrote.
City manager optimistic
City Manager Suiter said the negotiations with the club are going as he expected.
“I knew there would be some divergent viewpoints, and I’m not surprised where those are occurring,” Suiter said. “We just can’t continue operating (Howelsen) as an open checkbook. It’s not consistent with responsible management of the city’s funds. Part of our goal is to limit the city’s maintenance and operational obligations under the current (joint use agreement).”
Suiter said the city is in no way trying to limit or restrict the Winter Sports Club’s usage of Howelsen.
He added he was optimistic the city and the Winter Sports Club would come to a good agreement.
Suiter and Magill expressed disappointment about the Winter Sports Club’s decision to send out a letter seeking to pack the council chambers.
“This is not helpful for the negotiations,” Magill said.
Suiter said a flurry of public comment on the issue on Tuesday from Winter Sports Club supporters could also hinder the negotiations.
“It looks like there’s a potential this thing could go sideways,” he said.
The City Council has been handling the negotiations with the club in a series of private meetings and an executive session.
Two council members have been designated negotiators.
The Winter Sports Club and city officials have six more negotiating meetings scheduled.
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