Steamboat seeks big-box balance
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS Steamboat Springs continues its efforts to reconcile somewhat contrary realities. On one hand, its growing in population and rapidly. That is creating a market for the sorts of goods commonly sold across North American at lower prices by big-box retailers like The Home Depot and Target. But a good many people would rather not live in a place that is too much like the rest of America.The background issue is that plenty of people from Steamboat are driving long distances anyway to buy at the big-box stories to Silverthorne, 81 miles away, or Avon, 89 miles away. There, local governments are skimming off sales taxes to be used for transportation, bike paths, and other community amenities.To sort out its future, Steamboat city leaders have retained Economic and Planning Systems, a Denver-based firm. A survey distributed by the firm found Steamboat is mixed about whether big-box chain stores should be allowed within the city.But some officials, such as City Councilwoman Cari Hermancinski, say that a large-format retail store somewhere in the Yampa Valley is inevitable. If theres to be a big box in the west of Steamboat, she said, describing an area likely to be annexed, theres going to be one downvalley, and were all going to be driving to it anyway. The city, notes the Steamboat Pilot & Today, already has an ordinance that holds any commercial development larger than 12,000 square feet to higher design standards.Loui Antonucci, the council president, said the growth in retail development can be allowed to happen haphazardly, or you can try to engineer what you want and try to attract some of those businesses. A healthy mix of retailers, he added, would stop some of the leakage of money now being spent in other towns.Also looking into the future, Noreen Moore, the business resource director at the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, said Steamboats economy is evolving. She noted that 10 percent of local job-holders are location neutral meaning that their incomes are not tied to local tourism or agriculture. Instead, they are tied into broader regional, national or international economies.Before, if you wanted to do economic development, you asked, How do we get tourists in here? said Moore. Now you might add to that, How do we take care of families here and children and safety and make it possible for people to be able to talk to each other.