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Taskforce has plans for Reservoir Hill

The Pagosa Springs Town Tourism Committee’s Reservoir Hill Task Force subcommittee has ambitious plans for the town’s most visible geographical feature.

However, those plans are dependent on a number of factors: funding, engineering challenges offered by Reservoir Hill and the acceptance of those plans by the Pagosa Springs Town Council, as well as town residents at large.

During last Thursday’s meeting, members of the RHTF discussed a recent field trip (paid for out-of-pocket) in which subcommittee members visited several amusement parks in Western Slope mountain towns, vetting features for the quality of experience, ease of operation (especially end user flow) and revenue potential.

After observing parks and features in Durango, Ouray, Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge, RHTF members met last Thursday to share their feedback and make recommendations for what they believe would be the most viable projects on Reservoir Hill.

During Thursday’s meeting, TTC President (and Town Council member) Bob Hart expressed the rationale behind the RHTF’s desire to add amusement amenities — to provide local tourists with more to do, that those amenities hopefully extend a visitor’s stay and to encourage new (or more) business in town.

“I can tell you, we are missing out big time on tourist revenues,” Hart said regarding amenities offered in other towns but lacking in Pagosa Springs.

Last year, the TTC and town staff made improvements on the northwest side of the hill for sledding and snowboarding. Along with members from the Skaters Coalition for Concrete (SCC, the grassroots organization that has worked the past several years to raise money for a skate park, see related article) and other volunteers from the area, the group made improvements that included tree thinning, clearing dead brush and branches, and the installation of a berm at the bottom of the run to prevent sledders and snowboarders from continuing on to San Juan Street or adjacent properties.

However, last year, the TTC made it known that its plans for Reservoir Hill were much more ambitious than just improved sledding on the hill. Last December, the Pagosa Springs Town Council made the decision to purchase a chairlift (with only council member Shari Pierce casting a dissenting vote) after the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) proposed securing a decommissioned lift from the Cuchara Ski Area, asking the town for $41,000 to dismantle the lift and transport it to Pagosa Springs. A week later, council voted to appropriate the money for the lift.

Hart stressed at Thursday’s meeting that a chairlift would be integral in an RHTF plan to place amenities on the hill.

If the lift is constructed, (with an estimated cost of $350,000), it would transport skiers, snowboarders and sledders up the hill for a brief run down slopes. In the summer, the lift would allegedly provide transportation up the hill for amenity users, mountain bikers, hikers, sightseers and attendees at festivals held on the hill.

Proposed summertime use of the lift, in fact, necessitates 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 on foot too difficult.

Since purchasing the chair lift, the TTC and RHTF has proposed and revised various plans for adding amenities on the hill.

A first phase of construction would include a permanent amphitheater structure for the meadow where festivals take place (at an estimated cost of $1.5 million); an observation tower at the hill’s summit; and infrastructure improvements including sewer, electrical, water and road improvements. Total estimated costs would run almost $2.5 million.

Other features proposed in the first phase, but not provided with cost estimates, would include expanded tubing and sledding runs, a snack bar, restrooms with locker facilities, and expanded parking to accommodate visitors to the hill.

However, Thursday’s meeting of the RHTF focused primarily on amenities for amusement, based on assessments made from those offered in other mountain communities.

The consensus amongst RHTF members who took the field trip was that a zipline, bungy trampoline, alpine coaster, high-altitude swing and a giant water slide were the amenities they believe would provide the most attraction and economic benefit for the town.

Hart added that the advantage Pagosa Springs would have over other communities would be the visibility of the amenities, located as they would be on Reservoir Hill, looming over the heart of the historic downtown area.

Durango Mountain Resort is located at the Purgatory Ski Area, about 25 miles from downtown Durango. The Glenwood Springs Adventure Park, although located just outside of town, is not visible from the city center.

Funding for amenities was another issue raised by RHTF members.

TTC member (and field trip participant) Larry Fisher asked if the proposed amenities would pay for themselves.

“After this trip, it will pay for itself,” he said, answering his own question.

TTC member Jim Smith proposed forming a corporation to fund and run the amenities, soliciting investment from downtown business owners who would presumably receive dividends should the amenities realize a profit — as well as potentially seeing a significant increase in business following the installation and presumed success of those amenities, Smith added.

Earlier this year, the town worked in conjunction with the TTC to pursue state money offered through the Regional Tourism Act of 2009 (RTA). Although not grant funding, RTA provisions provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for projects in Colorado that promise to increase sales tax revenues from out-of-state visitors. The RTA TIF would rebate sales tax collected from developers (public or private) above those that would normally be collected by a municipality, presumably from money generated from tourist dollars.

In late May and early June, the town and TTC drafted a proposal to qualify for RTA financing. However, town officials realized that the proposal was not complete enough to be competitive with other municipalities seeking that funding, and made the decision to wait for the next round of RTA funding submissions.

The RTA offers a total of $50 million in TIF funding for six Colorado municipalities, two per year, during a three-year period.

Proposed amenities for Reservoir Hill figured prominently in the town’s initial RTA submittal and will presumably be listed on any future application.

While the RHTF had previously considered some of the engineering challenges presented by Reservoir Hill and its steep grade during discussions regarding the installation of a chair lift (the lift would require significant retrofits from the grade it was designed for at the Cuchara Ski Area to suit the much steeper grade on Reservoir Hill), little discussion was devoted to those challenges at Thursday’s meeting. Instead, members discussed general ideas of where the various amenities might be placed on or along side of the hill.

The RHTF did not speculate on how plans for expanding amenities on Reservoir Hill would be received by council or town residents.

The subcommittee probably assumes council would be receptive to its ideas. With the exception of Pierce, the board was enthusiastic about the addition of a chairlift on Reservoir Hill (although Hart was not sitting council member at that time, he spearheaded the effort to purchase of the chair lift last December).

Indeed, with council members hungry for a chance at economic development, as well as Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon and Town Manager David Mitchem eager to provide a nostrum to the area’s ailing economy, the RHTF most likely (and reasonably) assumed that their proposal would meet little resistance in council chambers.

However, public input on the proposal could be another matter. A number of residents currently take advantage of Reservoir Hill, enjoying the refuge of a mostly undeveloped semi-wild area located next to the heart of downtown. Obviously, the placement of various amusement amenities on the hill (and infrastructure to serve users of those amenities) would forever change the nature of the hill.

Conversely, a number of Pagosa Springs residents desire almost anything in town that could provide more jobs or additional income for local workers and businesses.

Nevertheless, before the RHTF can proceed with its proposal for council, it needs to compose a business plan that would justify not only the expense of proposed expansion on the hill, but also the existence of those amenities. To those ends, TTC coordinator Jennie Green asked RHTF members to tackle various elements of the proposal for the formulation of a business plan.

Green said she hoped to have the business plan completed and ready for presentation to council in time for the Sept. 6 meeting at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Until then, the RHTF has its work cut out for all subcommittee members, not only in refining amity proposals and plans, but in developing a business plan that would make sense for town or private investment.

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