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Town OKs ski lift for Reservoir Hill

Residents of the town got a lift last Friday morning during a special meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council.

Specifically, a chair lift that, if the town and the Town Tourism Committee can find the funds, will be installed on the northwest side of Reservoir Hill.

As reported in last week’s edition of The SUN, the TTC proposed securing a decommissioned chairlift from the Cuchara Ski Area at the Dec. 7 town council meeting, asking for $41,000 to dismantle the lift and transport it to Pagosa Springs. At that time, council felt it needed more time and information before making a decision on appropriating funds for the lift, scheduling Friday’s special meeting specifically to make a final decision regarding the lift.

The Cuchara Ski Area had placed a firm and timely deadline on the decision on the lift, stating that if the town did not take it, other communities had also expressed interest.

The purpose of the lift was made clear by TTC Board President Bob Hart and TTC Coordinator Jennie Green during a presentation at the Dec. 7 meeting: to make Reservoir Hill more of an attraction for visitors, with the intent of providing a multitude of activities during their stay in Pagosa Springs.

If the lift is constructed (with an estimated cost of $300,000), it would transport skiers, snow boarders and sledders up the hill for a brief run down slopes — the TTC is in the process of finishing a sledding and snow boarding run on the hill, but has proposed more runs if the lift is installed.

In the summer, the lift would provide transportation up the hill for mountain bikers, hikers, sightseers and attendees of festivals held on the hill. Summertime use of the lift, in fact, necessitated one of the retrofits for the lift: the Cuchara lift currently allows for uploading; a Reservoir Hill lift would also require downloading capabilities to accommodate festival attendees or other visitors to the hill who find a descent too difficult.

Given the recreational opportunities that a lift would potentially open up for the hill, council members who had been fence sitting during the Dec. 7 meeting appeared to have moved firmly in favor of securing the lift by the time the Dec. 10 meeting was convened.

Trustee Shari Pierce was not one of those members of the council. Restating concerns she had with unfinished projects (a large portion of the town’s Riverwalk, restrooms and facilities in Yamaguchi Park, the Town-to-Lakes trail system, etc.), Pierce reported that she had not heard support for the lift from her constituents.

“I’ve had six people contact me regarding this,” she said, “and not one has stated any support.”

Pierce added that she felt that the council should consider funding the lift only if the TTC would consider that appropriation a loan, to be paid back in 2011.

However, Town Manager David Mitchem pointed out that the TTC had other capital expenses dedicated for 2011, most notably the continuing wayfinding and signage project, and that the repayment of a loan would be too much of a financial burden for the committee.

Trustee Darrell Cotton, one of the council members who had stated support for securing the lift at the previous meeting, remarked that, with The Springs Resort reporting 150,000 people staying at the resort during the past year, a lift would most likely be well used.

Undecided at the Dec. 7 meeting, trustee Stan Holt agreed with Cotton, but said that much more work needed to be done to make the lift a viable concern.

“I’m the one who brought up the business plan and I think we need it,” Holt said, adding, “we have very little to lose and a whole lot to gain ... I’m for it.”

Also previously undecided, trustee Kathie Lattin said, “I do agree that there are a lot of projects that need to be completed.

“I’ve been approached by three separate people about this, none of them had one good thing to say about this,” Lattin continued, but conceded that those people had probably not looked at the future potential of the project.

“As far as the initial investment, I think it’s worth it,” she said.

Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon opened up the discussion for public input. Local business owner Cappy White said, “I think this could be a game-changer,” adding that he felt the project would provide a positive impact on downtown businesses.

Local businessman (and TTC board member) Thad McKain said, “I don’t know who is talking to some of the council members, but I’m hearing positive things as far the potential for all kinds of activities up on the hill. I don’t want to see Reservoir Hill turned into Disneyland or something like that, but I think it has tremendous potential”

Local business owner Norm Vance added, “I think you’ll have people standing in line all summer long — and not just for festivals.”

With comments returning to council members, Cotton stated that the idea of a chairlift on Reservoir Hill was so crazy that it just might work.

“None of you were on the council back then, but back in the eighties the mayor and I talked about how it would be nice to build more pools for soaking. Now look at The Springs Resort today. See how many people are out there. And people thought it was a crazy idea back then.

“Some of the lunacy ideas are the ones that work,” Cotton said.

“I just think about all the people out at the Wyndham. I think it could help keep them here a couple more days,” added Holt.

Pierce, seeing the overall sentiment of council in favor of securing the lift, again floated her idea about making the appropriation a loan, with the TTC reimbursing the town next year.

“I don’t think there’s sufficient cash flow there,” responded Mitchem.

Although trustee Jerry Jackson stated that he agreed with Pierce, saying, “I think it’s a good idea. I think it should be built into the business plan,” he did not stipulate reimbursement of funds into his motion to approve spending for the lift.

With a second by Holt, council approved money for the lift with only Pierce opposing.

“Even if all we get out of this is the rope tow, this could be fun,” Jackson said after the vote, referring to a 400-foot rope tow that is included as part of the package for the lift.

“People get here and complain there’s nothing to do here ... I think that this will be just fun,” he added.

With the lift on its way for storage in Pagosa Springs, it remains to be seen if and when the town will take the next step — spending at least $300,000 to re-engineer and construct the lift for use on Reservoir Hill. If that is done, the next question will be how the town will fund the nearly $150,000 estimated for annual operations and maintenance.

Aragon thanked the TTC at the end of the meeting for, “Working hard on economic development,” assuming that the lift will not only pay for itself through lift passes, but will encourage more recreational — and by implication, economic — activity in the downtown area.

Hart added that, in the aggregate, the lift should add to the local tax base through increased activity downtown.

For the moment, the town will have to wait and see if the latest proposed project for downtown (yet another one awaiting completion) will indeed provide the town, and the local economy, a badly needed lift.

jim@pagosasun.com