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  • Dylan Anderson

Council confirms decision to end second sheet of ice talks until larger Howelsen planning process plays out

Fundraising committee “very disappointed,” says decision could lead to less enthusiasm from community that has long pushed for more ice.

Steamboat Springs City Council confirmed their decision to end negotiations on a fundraising agreement for a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Hill on Tuesday, favoring a plan already in the works that hopes to look at the city’s feature park more holistically.

After the vote, Kerry Shea, chair of the Howelsen Ice Pavilion Committee fundraising for the project, said he was “very disappointed,” adding that further delay in the nearly decade old push for more ice could lead to a waning willingness from the community to support the project.

“At some point the time and the amount of energy that’s involved in this is going to change,” Shea said. “A lot of volunteers in this community have been working for almost a decade now to try to pull off something.”

In January, council agreed to extend the fundraising agreement and consider a request from the HIP Committee to match donations up to $3 million. But when council met in executive session earlier this month to nail down a negotiating strategy, they failed to come to a consensus. They then exited the Feb. 6 closed-door meeting to say they intended to end negotiations and take a broader view on the future of Howelsen before committing significant city dollars to a project.

Shea said it is particularly frustrating that council reversed their earlier decision without allowing the HIP Committee an opportunity to engage with the city after they expressed concerns.

“The ultimate frustration and disappointment [is] having this be unilateral without a full engagement of the user groups and an active discussion when they approved it on Jan. 23 in front of 10-year-olds — users staying up past their bed time to come and talk to them,” Shea said. “Looking them in the eye and approving it and then rescinding it two weeks later.”

While the latest effort in the nine-year push to add a second sheet of ice is over, council members said they recognize the need for more capacity at the ice arena and are still very supportive of adding more ice. Members pointed to a “charette process” kicking off next month that intends to engage user groups throughout the complex to guide future planning.

“It’s not a no forever, it’s just a no for now,” Council Member Bryan Swintek said. “I’d like to see the results of the charette and have a broader picture.”

“I think we need to have this process play out and see what creative solutions we can come up with to move this forward,” Council member Steve Muntean said. “I’m totally committed to a second sheet of ice and I think that by September, which is not that far away, we might have a little more clarity on some potential options that we could consider.”  

One concern among council members was that if they were to commit to match any level of donations in an extended agreement, they needed to incumber all of those funds now. For example, if council had agreed to match up $3 million in donations, that money would need to be allocated to the project now.

The city’s 2024 capital project budget funded 37 different projects for a total of $42 million dollars, but there were another 30 projects that did not receive funding.

“They were identified as a need for 2024 that we weren’t able to fund,” said city Finance Director Kim Weber, adding that the 30 unfunded projects total $24 million of work. “We just simply don’t have the money.”

“It’s one of those times as a council member where you see that there are so many needs and competing interests and we can’t do it all at the same time,” said Council member Dakotah McGinlay. “I do believe that we will have a second sheet of ice in the future — hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said the city would likely pick a consultant for the charette process by the end of the week and kick off the effort sometime in March. That process would wrap up toward the end of the summer with findings likely being presented to council in mid-September at the latest.

Council member Joella West suggested council should simply extend the agreement without the city committing to helping fund the project at this time, preventing any funds from being tied up, but that idea failed to gain enough support from other council members.

“I would have some concerns with moving forward and extending the (fundraising agreement) in terms of how that would impact our ability to look at this holistically,” said Council President Gail Garey.

Garey also questioned if simply extending the agreement would accomplish anything. When asking for the city to match donations, the HIP Committee said it would help them to be able to show the city has committed to the project. A simple extension would not give the committee that assurance.

Shea said the user groups involved in the HIP Committee are ready and willing to participate in the city’s charette process, but that the decision means the need for ice is even further from a solution.

“We’re still on premise, we’re still around to participate,” Shea said. “But the impact of their decision right now will have implications in terms of this project and how it is funded and managed moving forward.”

Top Photo Caption: A young user of the Howelsen Ice Arena gives public comment in January asking Steamboat Springs City Council to add a second sheet of ice. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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