Dillon residents push for better deal with Ice Castles
DILLON — The Ice Castles bring a lot of visitors to town, but what good are they doing Dillon residents?
That was the pervasive question making its way through a dense crowd Thursday night at Dillon Town Hall as community members gathered with town staff to discuss the future of the town’s relationship with Ice Castles. Representatives with the company were in attendance to provide the public with a firsthand look at new conceptual designs for the amenity, meant to better fit with upcoming Town Park improvements.
Though if a new agreement is going to move forward, the town will have to strike a careful balance between maintaining quality of life standards among residents and trying to provide an impactful winter amenity to drive traffic to the core area.
“There’s been a tension between the bedroom community and a desire to have a vital downtown core area,” said Kerstin Anderson, the town’s marketing and communications director. “The desire, as residents have expressed, is to have vibrant shops, retail and restaurants. Ice Castles brings that density to allow for that type of vitality, and for the growth and investment in our community. But of course there are then impacts that we feel in terms of parking and traffic and other things.
“The question is how do we achieve this goal, and how do we plan around and mitigate those impacts along the way to still retain the character of the community we love so well? Luckily we have such a passionate group to help.”
At the workshop Thursday, residents were given a refresher on past and planned improvements as part of the Town Park Master Plan — including recent upgrades to drainage and parking, and the upcoming excavation for the multiuse field — and were filled in on the most recent concept for future potential Ice Castle installations by CEO Ryan Davis.
In short, the company is proposing moving the ice castles to the north end of the park, along Tenderfoot Street, and planting an “Alpine park” consisting of indigenous mountain flowers that could survive being buried under the ice and bloom into an attraction of their own in the summer. Davis also noted the potential for the addition of other attractions that could be included with the price of a ticket, including snow caves with “world-class” sculptures and images carved by experts, more ice slides and an ice rink that would be privately or town run.
“We’ve watched this happen the past couple of years, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking with (Public Works Director Scott O’Brien) and Kerstin about the existing plan,” Davis said. “We’ve looked at ways that we could fit into that plan down at the soccer field but concluded it’s probably not the best thing for the field for us to be there. The ice castles are a fairly intense use with the amount of water we put on the ground and how we build it.
“So we looked at moving what we do farther north. As we looked at it, we tried to find relationships both with what was planned for that area as well as what in nature works well with snow and ice. The thing that came to mind the most is that there’s nothing as beautiful as mountain wildflowers.”
If a long-term agreement between the two entities is reached — likely in the form of a five-plus year contract — Ice Castles has agreed to help fund some capital investments at the park, including continued drainage improvements, landscaping and a pavilion.
After the presentation, the crowd was split into groups and asked to come up with a list of priorities and concerns for any potential agreements. Several topics rose to the top of the discussions, including concerns around parking, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, walkability and accessibility, the length of time the park is closed to the public and changes to the 2013 master plan like the nixing of the pickleball courts.
The conversation largely revolved around whether Ice Castles was providing enough positives to the town to continue with a relationship. While business owners have been notable cheerleaders for the amenity in the past, many residents feel the seasonal boost to sales tax numbers isn’t a sufficient return for the space.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Jeff Rucks, a second-home owner in Dillon. “I think they make a tremendous amount of money, and right now the town is not benefitting from that as much as they probably should given the impacts on the community.”
According to Anderson, Ice Castles pays a $10,000 damage deposit each year, and paid just under $50,000 for water during the 2018-19 season. Though, aside from indirect economic lifts to restaurants and lodging, the company doesn’t compensate the town in any way for the land.
“I enjoy the ice castles being here,” resident Erica Boll said. “But it would be nice if there were some benefit to the locals. For our family to go, it was quite expensive. Our kids want to go back, but financially is that something we’re going to invest in again? … Our concerns are about how it’s benefiting the town. Right now, Dillon isn’t recouping any ticket sales, and they’re not getting any rent for the castles to be here. So what benefit is that having for the community?”
As officials consider how to increase the benefit for Dillon residents, there also were individuals who voiced that the change in location could have a bigger impact on homeowners.
“We kind of like being the quietest street in Dillon,” said Jim Pasterkamp, who owns a home on Tenderfoot Street, where the castles are proposed to move. “But we’re looking at increased traffic volume, more pedestrians. It would be in our front yard.”
Despite some clear anxieties raised by residents, the mood remained optimistic that an agreement could be reached that would keep the castles in town, mitigate negative impacts and provide more utility to locals.
Anderson said the next step is compiling all the information and input collected at the meeting, and sending it over to the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. The committee then will provide the Dillon Town Council with a recommendation, and the town could make a decision to move forward with the new concept or pull back as early as next month. If things move forward, Anderson said the town would take some time to negotiate the best deal possible — taking into account all of the community’s comments — along with putting together a more detailed plan around things like landscaping, traffic and tree relocation.
“I think that it was great to see so much interaction and passion from the community,” Anderson said. “If council members deem this a worthy partnership, I’m confident we can address the concerns that were communicated and ultimately build an agreement with a great deal of public benefit.”
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