After a discussion in executive session, council members said they needed to think broader about the future of Howelsen Hill complex before devoting significant funding to one project.
Steamboat Springs City Council will not extend a fundraising agreement for the Howelsen Ice Pavilion that expired last week, a move effectively ending the latest effort to add a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Hill.
The decision came after Council met in an executive session on Tuesday to discuss a renegotiated funding deal with the local group that would allow for more time to fundraise. The HIP Committee shared tepid fundraising numbers with Council last month and asked the city to match up to $3 million in donations for the $6 million project.
But council members emerged from the closed-door session saying they needed to have a broader discussion about the future of Howelsen Hill Complex before devoting significant funding to a lone project.
“What the city has been asked to step up to raised a much larger question,” said Council member Joella West. “To go forward with any project at this time and commit a substantial infusion of city money did not seem to us to be a wise choice.”
“I know that’s going to be terribly discouraging for people who are anxiously awaiting progress on this, but we had no other way that we thought was reasonable to proceed,” West continued. “We really do intend to focus on Howelsen in general, including a second sheet of ice, and figure out how to make it move forward on a much higher level.”
The Howelsen Ice Pavilion is the second attempt to add a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Ice Rink. The first effort ultimately stalled in 2018 despite a $1 million donation and $700,000 from the city’s accommodations tax.
But it isn’t just more ice that local user groups have asked for at Howelsen. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has pursued its own multi-purpose building at Howelsen Hill that would house staff and allow for more training space for athletes. Council opted not to move forward with that early last year with the hope of taking a broader view of the future of Howelsen Hill.
After talk of the SSWSC facility idea fizzled last year, Council decided to order parking and traffic studies for the complex to assess future needs. City staff proposed a 16-month process that included more talk among the park’s main user groups and eventually a communitywide survey about what they should do.
Then in March 2023, the city and Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association came to a fundraising deal to build the Howelsen Ice Pavilion. That deal — which expired on Jan. 31 — required the group to come up with 100% of the funding needed to build the outdoor covered sheet of ice.
“As the project has evolved since  and now we’re being asked for a substantial sum of money to build this sheet of ice,” said Council member Michael Buccino. “If we’re going to use tax dollars for [a public project] that we need to spend this much money on, I want to look at it a little bit broader.”
“We need to stop and look at what more we can do with the second sheet of ice and additional stakeholders in that footprint,” Buccino continued. “Could we spend more money and build something better for the community?”
Council indicated it was going to renegotiate the fundraising agreement at its Jan. 23 meeting, which saw user groups jostling for limited ice time fill council chambers to persuade members of the need for more ice. That led to the scheduled executive session on Tuesday where members planned to discuss how much money the city could put toward the project in the new deal.
Before council went into executive session, several members of council said they were hesitant to even talk behind closed doors in favor of having a larger public discussion about Howelsen Hill.
After they came out of the executive session, Council members agreed to add a public discussion about next steps with the Howelsen Hill complex in general to their Feb. 27 meeting agenda.
“I think there is support for a second sheet of ice, but we do know that there are additional needs and we’re hoping that we can work collaboratively together to come up with a solution that best serves our community,” said Council President Gail Garey.
Top Photo Caption: A young ice rink user gives public comment about Steamboat's need for more ice on Jan. 23. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)