Our View: Carry on legacy
November 14, 2015
Steamboat Springs — Historically, the individual actions of an elected governing body — from a national congress all the way down to a town board — almost never enjoy universal approval from its constituency, and the former Steamboat Springs City Council is no exception.
Near the close of its sometimes troubled tenure, the former council faced significant public backlash regarding the ultimately discarded idea of using tax increment financing to fund downtown improvements, many of them on the riverside expanse of Yampa Street.
And while tax increment financing may not have been the best option for bankrolling these improvements, that in no way diminishes the importance of undertaking them. The former council recognized this, and despite its June rejection of a divisive downtown urban renewal plan that would have used TIF to pay for millions of dollars worth of public infrastructure improvements, council members the following month pulled the trigger on a financing package designed to complete the improvements by the end of 2018.
In late October, construction crews wrapped up phase one of a project to transform the former site of the historic Workman house into a public park with access to the Yampa River — an early and highly visible piece of this planned downtown renaissance.
The Workman project includes terracing and bank improvements, construction of a new stone staircase leading to what will become Workman Park, replacement of a failing culvert on Butcherknife Creek and the transformation of retaining walls along the river to a more natural-looking bank that visitors will soon be able to access.
Though work has ended for the winter, city engineer Danny Paul expects the project will be completed by June. The changes already are apparent, and we can hardly wait to see the final result when the snow melts and spring returns to the Yampa Valley.
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In and of itself, the Workman project could be seen as a fine legacy for the former council. But it is only the beginning. The cornerstone of a much larger set of improvements that promise to transform our downtown, not only into something we, as residents, can all enjoy, but also into one more drawing card for our all-important tourist industry. And this — the overall transformation — is what we see as the former council's true legacy.
The project is ambitious — a $10.3 million wish list designed to address badly needed sidewalk construction and upgrades, public facility improvements and many other infrastructure concerns in the heart of our downtown, and with TIF off the table — at least for the time being — the new council will be charged with finding palatable ways of financing them, a process that appears to already be underway.
Tuesday, council members are expected to consider declaring Steamboat's downtown corridor as "blighted," a move that could qualify the city for a $600,000 grant to fund some of these improvements. Other funding ideas so far discussed have included additional grants, sidewalk assessments, franchise fees, certificates of participation and tapping reserves from the city's general fund.
While we may not always agree on the means to achieving a desired end — particularly in situations where means translates to money — it can hardly be argued that creating a more welcoming and functional downtown that better enhances the natural beauty and splendor of our valley is not a desirable goal.
So we're encouraged to see the new council has seamlessly picked up the ball on what may well become its predecessor's enduring legacy. It's important work — work that will ultimately benefit us all.
Workman Park is a fine beginning. Let's see it through.
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