Crown Mountain board supports exploring indoor recreation facility in El Jebel
Private individual vows he will provide the funds for sportsplex
Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors voted Wednesday to open discussions with Eagle County to see if a privately funded indoor sportsplex can be pursued at the popular midvalley site.
The board voted 5-0 to open preliminary discussions with county officials to determine if a formal application should be put in motion.
“This is an opportunity that our community could really benefit from,” said board member Leroy Duroux, a former Basalt mayor. “We have to figure out if it’s even possible.”
The board voted 4-1, with Jennifer Riffle dissenting, to explore the possibility at a specific site within the park. The 3.5-acre site is in a part of the park that a prior master plan identified as the best midvalley location for an indoor recreation facility.
The site is right along Valley Road, relatively close to a public bus stop and would not interfere with views of use of open spaces at the park dedicated to sports fields.
“I really like the site location,” said board chairman Tim Power-Smith. “It doesn’t disrupt the natural parkland to the south and it actually has good adjacencies to public transportation. If we’re thinking about seniors and kids, I think they did a nice job of putting that together.”
Riffle said the site wasn’t ideal because it could interfere with views from the Sopris View Apartments across Valley Road.
The sportsplex was proposed by Sheldon Wolitski, a business executive who recently relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley. He shared his passion last summer with Crown Mountain officials about creating and funding indoor recreation facilities in the midvalley. Last week, he urged the Crown Mountain board to let him know if they were interested in formally pursuing the idea.
The main components of his 90,000-square-foot sportsplex include a hockey arena, covered turf and a recreation facility.
While the financial scenarios haven’t been thoroughly discussed, Crown Mountain officials said last week no taxpayer funds would be used for construction. Mary Geiger, the district’s attorney, stressed again Wednesday night that the discussion is very preliminary.
Crown Mountain is essentially voting to “take the county’s temperature,” Geiger said. “That’s all I see this being — to get the conversation going.”
Eagle County owns the 124-acre park and open space site, which is adjoined by vacant U.S. Forest Service land. In addition to being the landlord, the county commissioners would have to approve changes to the existing land-use approvals. Geiger said if the idea proceeds beyond the county’s preliminary look, it would be reviewed in public hearings and everyone would get a chance to comment.
Rebecca Wagner, Crown Mountain Park’s executive director, said big issues for county officials to consider in the preliminary look would include sub-leasing space to Wolitski, traffic generation and the design and land-use review. Another big consideration is whether the intersection at Valley Road and El Jebel Road could handle increased traffic. That has stymied other private and public development proposals. County officials have vowed to fix the haphazardly designed intersection in the near future.
A few members of the public monitored the videoconference meeting and offered comments pro and con.
Bernie Grauer of Basalt said he could support looking at an ice rink but not extensive other facilities.
“Bricks, mortar and parking don’t belong on the Crown Mountain (Park),” he said.
In reality, the Wolitski’s plan would require a public subsidy via a below market land lease or free use of land, he claimed. Grauer noted that the public previously voted against funding an indoor recreation facility.
A proposal to raise property taxes to pay off $25 million in bonds for a facility at Crown Mountain was defeated by a landslide in November 2013: 79% to 21%.
Crown Mountain board member Bonnie Scott said the main objection at that time was the cost to the public. Wolitski plans to raise funds and seek grants to build the facilities in phases. Membership fees would help fund later phases.
Rod Woelfle of the Roaring Fork Valley Soccer Club said the organization is enthusiastically in favor of the plan. He said it represents more than 600 youth soccer players.
It’s a safe bet that there will be significant public debate if and when a formal application is submitted. For now, the idea is to see if Eagle County will even entertain a formal application.
“I don’t want to spend $100,000 of Sheldon’s money then have the county say no,” Wagner said.
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