A proposal that did not include the gondola considered just last year was closer to $10 million.
The latest estimates show an overhauled Gondola Transit Center with a new gondola between the base area of Steamboat Resort and the Meadows Parking lot could cost as much as $50 million — a number about five times greater than designs considered just last year.
That 2022 proposal did not include a new gondola, however, which is a significant part of the cost increase and would be paid for by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. through a plan to create several metro districts in and around the base area.
In a presentation to Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday, Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority project manager Gates Gooding said the resort would contribute up to $26 million to the transit center overhaul, with another sum between $15 million and $20 million coming from the Mountain Urban Renewal Authority.
This design, referred to as concept 1B, would close the Gondola Transit Center to public traffic and end through traffic on Mount Werner Circle.
“The design comes with several benefits,” Gooding said. “Closing the road means we can prioritize pedestrian safety and walkability. This concept has more transit capacity than any of the others we’ve looked at and by redirecting traffic to a new transit center in the Meadows Parking lot, it would considerably reduce congestion in the GTC itself.”
“There are also arguments against this project,” Gooding continued. “It’s turned into a huge project with costs that are much higher than originally anticipated. The current GTC does function [and] some people think that maybe this large investment is unjustified.”
The updated estimate comes as the resort is pushing to get the formation of several metro districts on the ballot this November. The deadline for council to refer that to the ballot is Aug. 22, though the vote is largely a formality as the resort owns each of the parcels that would be subject to the districts. The haste with getting the approval of the districts on the ballot this year is because the resort intends to sell several of the subject parcels in the near future.
Council agreed to continue pursuing concept 1B and directed city staff to pursue an expedited negotiation of a public improvements agreement with the resort, which is a piece of the metro district proposal that outlines where that funding could flow. That agreement does not need to be approved before the metro districts are approved, but City Manager Gary Suiter said he worried that it could take a long time to develop if not done before the districts are approved.
“I like the idea of an expedited PIA negotiation,” Suiter said. “We would make the staff capacity. I believe our partner would make the capacity to do that and get it done in tandem with a metro district approval or consideration.”
City Attorney Dan Foote said negotiations for this agreement would largely happen at the staff level and then be brought to council for approval later in the year — likely on Aug. 22. Council also agreed to add additional meetings for the redevelopment authority in June and July to get updates on those negotiations.
Gooding said the metro district concept would prioritize the transit center over other projects the URA had planned to address before it expires in 2029, but that it also could potentially backfill funding in the future for those upgrades. He referred to it as a potential “have a cake and eat it too” scenario.
There is still significant design work needed on the new transit center concept, Gooding said. Council approved spending $365,000 on that design work, a lawyer to help with PIA negotiations and additional traffic study, on Tuesday. Resort President and CEO Rob Perlman noted that the resort is contributing an equal amount to planning this year. Gooding said when all is said and done, design alone will cost a couple million dollars.
Andrew Lang, vice president of strategic planning and development with resort owner Alterra Mountain Company, said if the districts are approved on the planned timeline, construction on the overhauled transit center would start in 2025, with work wrapping up ahead of the 2026 ski season.
One of the questions council considered is what would constitute a public benefit for this project.
Lang said the gondola would be free, but wouldn’t necessarily be open year-round. It would be open during peak seasons in the summer and winter and Perlman said it would be used for various special events as well. When not in use the resort could run a shuttle to get people back to the Meadows lot, Perlman added.
Council member Michael Buccino said he thought that was a silly question as he believes the whole project would be a public benefit, as it addresses current traffic, parking and transit issues at the base area. He also noted that many of the benefits enjoyed by residents of Steamboat are only possible because there is a "world-class resort" in town.
“I myself park in the Meadows and I’m looking forward to being able to take the gondola right from there,” Buccino said. “There’s a huge public benefit.”
But council member Dakotah McGinlay quickly responded, saying when the city is talking about contributing this level of funding to a project that is being pushed by a private entity like the resort, they need to ensure the public benefit is a focus.
“We have a lot of community needs right now,” McGinlay said. “How is this project potentially meeting the current community need and potentially that’s recreation needs, but I’d like to think a little bit larger than that and think about how is this going to serve the whole community.”