Thursday, August 18, 2005

Steamboat Springs City Council discusses public gondola to ski area base

The discussion on the Wildhorse to one Steamboat Place gondola continues. In my opinion this would be practical way to keep a lot of traffic off of the upper base area in Steamboat and a big wow factor amenity for visitors to the ski area year round. It would be a much better experience than getting on a bus and bring some additional cachet and thus visitors to the base area all year long. If the goal is to create a year round scene up on the mountain a gondola would be a big help in addition to the base area updates that are in hte planning stages. We'll see what happens...

Selected quotes from the Steamboat Pilot and Today:
Proposed people-mover would be ‘visionary' investment By Tom Ross Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is Steamboat Springs ready to invest in a multimillion dollar public/private gondola at the base of Steamboat Ski Area? "This is visionary," Council President Paul Strong said. "But sometimes we're not ready for that vision. It would take shuttle vans and cars off our roads.

The gondola came up during a preliminary discussion about Wildhorse Meadows, a luxury residential subdivision that would create 300 to 375 residential units on 47 acres near the base of the ski area. No vote was taken about the fate of the project. The gondola would deliver people from a public plaza to be built just east of the ski area's remote parking lot. The gondola would end at the proposed One Steamboat Place luxury condominium project adjacent to the ski area gondola.

Wildhorse spokesman Whitney Ward told the council he was prepared to take one of two approaches to building the gondola. The first approach would be a lower-capacity gondola that would cost about $1.5 million. It would be a private gondola available to people staying in Wildhorse Meadows.

Ward's development group obtained a private easement for the gondola when it purchased its real estate from American Skiing Company. Ward said he also is willing to build a much more robust public gondola with the financial participation of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the city. It would be available to skiers and snowboarders heading to the gondola that takes snow riders to Thunderhead.

Public funding would come from the city's newly created urban renewal authority, which captures an increment of property tax growth for public improvements near the base of the ski area. Ward said he has calculated that without taking One Steamboat Place (for which he also is a principal) into account, Wildhorse Meadows could generate $14 million in bondable tax increment financing.

Ward told the council that he thinks that if his project is to be included within the boundaries of the URA, it must be the recipient of some of the public improvements that are funded. "I think there's a good public discussion to have about whether that's an appropriate use of funds," Ward said.

Councilwoman Kathy Connell sounded intrigued with the effect the people mover gondola could have in the future. "We really do have a window of opportunity that's larger than our own perspectives," Connell said. "Is this a way we can condense some of our transportation? Do we like the idea of getting more people on foot?"

Councilman Loui Antonucci said the community needs to take a broader look at circulation patterns near the base of Mount Werner. He said it's difficult to gauge how many pedestrians would cross Mount Werner Road, for example, to reach the gondola. He added that he thinks the complexity of the task might lead Ward and his partners to opt for the less expensive private gondola.

Ward promised council members he would have a better understanding of American Skiing Company's interest in the gondola when he returns to seek a development permit for Wildhorse Meadows.

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