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  • Dylan Anderson

Cost of overhauled Gondola Transit Center at base of Steamboat Resort nearly doubles

The current estimate for the city’s scope of work is now $38 million, up from $20 million just seven months ago.


The cost of building a new Gondola Transit Center near the base area of Steamboat Resort has nearly doubled in the seven months since the city of Steamboat Springs inked a deal for a project that is far grander than earlier renditions.


In August, Steamboat Springs City Council approved a deal with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. for the overhauled transit center — a project that includes a new gondola and redesigned Meadows Parking Lot. In that deal, the resort would contribute $30 million for the gondola and parking lot aspects while the city used $20 million on the transit infrastructure near the base.


On Tuesday, Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority project manager Gates Gooding told Council the city’s share of the project was now estimated at $38 million, and that estimate will get higher when costs for a geothermal system are better understood. Gooding said the resort’s portion of the project has seen costs inflate as well, though he did not share numbers.


“Money is obviously our biggest challenge right now,” Gooding told council, which was meeting as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority. “We have our budget issues. They also are over budget on their design.”  


Council agreed to schedule another meeting in May or June to make decisions on how to deal with the significant cost increase for the project. Between now and then, Gooding said project staff would work through significant value engineering that could potentially see entire sections of the project discarded in an effort to reduce the price tag.


“Really what we need to look at is reducing the scope and even the extent of the project,” Gooding said. “What if we cut out the north side of the project? … What if we cut out the south side of the project? …. The proposal from the project team is to develop a number of these scenarios.”


Fixing what is widely agreed is a broken transit center has long been a priority of the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority, a taxing authority governed by city council formed in the early 2000s to clean up “blight” around the base area. Earlier plans for the new transit center envisioned a project that was closer to $10 million in total cost, but that project didn’t include a gondola or Meadows Parking Lot improvements.


Caption: This graphic shows the proposed path of a new gondola connecting the Meadows Parking Lot with the gondola transit center. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)


Last summer, Steamboat Resort pitched the new plan, which was then estimated to cost roughly $50 million total. Ski Corp. formed several metro districts to help fund its side of the deal and the city signed a public improvement agreement outlining the scope of the project in August.


“When we discussed the GTC — a year and a half ago, two years ago — it was a much different project,” said Council member Dakotah McGinlay. “The funding is not there and it’s just kind of mindboggling how much this project has expanded and exploded in the last year and a half, two years.”


The current design includes a significant snowmelt system on 120,000 square feet of paved surfaces at the new transit center that would be heated by a geothermal system — the cost of which is still unknown. Gooding said the tubing for the snowmelt system alone could cost $6 million.


The geothermal system would require a bore field located at the top of ‘See Me’ on the mountain that would store heat in a type of thermal battery. This could then be used to heat the snowmelt system, but the type of geothermal system being proposed would not produce electricity. While geothermal is expensive, it may be the most economical option when considering tax credits available and cheaper operating costs.


(Estimates include what a gas-powered system would cost, but this was characterized as a benchmark and not an option that was being considered.)


Caption: A rendering of the new Gondola Transit Center. (Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp./Courtesy)


McGinlay and Council President Gail Garey suggested one area to find fast cost savings would be in the snowmelt system — either by limiting its footprint or cutting it altogether. If the project didn’t have snowmelt, it would be $6 million cheaper and there would be no need for a geothermal system, but there currently isn’t any space for snow storage.


“2023 was the warmest year we’ve had in over 174 years. I really just question as we look forward, are we going to need snowmelt?” Garey asked rhetorically. “I don’t know how we contemplate that, but from that perspective, the climate is changing, we know things are warming.”


Still, most council members said they felt snowmelt was an essential part of the project and that the geothermal system was an exciting opportunity to make it carbon-free.


Gooding told council the solution to the budget issue likely includes a mix of increasing the budget and reducing the scope of the project. This may include cutting parts of the project on the edges of the new transit center, as project consultants have advised subtle changes will not produce the significant cost savings needed. An increase to the budget may come at the expense of other projects in line for URA funds before it expires in 2029.


“Did we develop something at the highest, gold standard? Yeah, probably, it’s a beautiful design,” said Council member Amy Dickson. “But in reality, any other business, [or] corporation would have to go back and tailor that down significantly.”


Top photo caption: A rendering of the whole Gondola Transit Center project, including the new gondola and improvements planned at the Meadows Parking Lot. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)

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