Ice castles continue to stir debate among Dillon residents
Ice Castles officials provided an updated presentation to Dillon Town Council members during a regular meeting Jan. 5, the latest in a lengthy discussion on a proposed long-term agreement with the town. But the community remains deeply divided with regard to whether the attraction can remain at Town Park without creating undue hardships on surrounding residents.
Pedro Campos, a landscape architect with Zehren & Associates, provided council with the most up-to-date plans, which included detailed drawings of the park for summer and winter use along with initial cost estimates for the proposal. Campos, who worked with the town of Dillon in developing the 2013 Town Park Master Plan and since has been hired by Ice Castles to lead its design efforts, said the current proposal was heavily influenced by community feedback collected over the past year.
“A year ago, we made a presentation to you all with this idea of creating the Ice Castles venue on the northern part of the park and some concepts to show how that might take place,” Campos said. “… We heard a series of comments at that point. There were 30 or 40 people who attended that meeting, and there were very good points being made. … We’ve since been trying to react and respond to it and integrate it.”
The plans broadly outline a dual use design wherein Ice Castles would move the attraction to the north side of the park, adding new paid attractions like ice slides and snow caves, and leaving the southern section of the park open to the public. Visitors to the ice castles would continue to enter through the southern section of the park to alleviate parking and traffic concerns for residents on Tenderfoot Street and other residential areas.
In the summer, the northern part of the park would be transformed into an Alpine garden with mountain flowers, shrubs and more. The designs also feature many elements already planned for upcoming park improvements, including the multiuse field, climbing wall, playground areas and a new centralized pavilion.
Campos said they also have been working to assimilate other important features identified by community members, such as more comprehensive landscaping and connectivity throughout the park. In all, the redesign could end up costing more than $2.7 million. If a deal is made, Ice Castles would help to foot the bill.
Ice Castles CEO Kyle Standifird also spoke at the meeting in an attempt to assure community members the company was working in good faith to address problems. Standifird pointed to new signage and messaging put out this year to drive visitors away from residential areas and toward appropriate parking, and reaffirmed the company’s dedication to mitigating traffic and parking impacts on residents into the future.
Standifird also said the company hasn’t done its typical work to beautify the park in past years due to planned town improvements but promised more holistic efforts to remediate damage in the future, along with annual contributions to a fund for replanting flowers, reseeding grass and more to make sure the area stays in good condition.
“We’re involved in the community and want to be involved, and we are wanting to be a good financial partner as well as a good community partner,” Standifird said.
Standifird said Ice Castles would return soon in hopes of signing a letter of intent with the town, which would serve as a nonbinding agreement to outline terms around things like cost sharing, construction phasing, funding opportunities and the number of years in a partnership.
The Town Council’s reaction was somewhat mixed.
“I’m still struggling with what the benefit to the town is,” council member Steve Milroy said. “Are we doing this to help businesses? Are we doing this to activate the town core? Are we doing this to see new businesses come? We have to have metrics, and we have to look at those metrics. Historically, to me, the metrics just aren’t that strong. The sales tax numbers aren’t that substantial. It’s marginal increases you could probably say occurred across the whole county. I know it’s an attraction that people like to talk about … but is it really an attraction that’s helping the town move forward?
Concerns also were raised about the potential $2.7 million cost and the idea of signing a long-term agreement without first seeing how the castles would impact the north end of the park.
Other council members voiced that they’d seen clear advantages to the ice castles and that negotiations should continue.
“I think there has been a lot of benefits,” council member Jen Barchers said. “I would argue that we might not have very many new businesses, but we haven’t lost any businesses that we would have lost had it not been for Ice Castles. We know that directly from business owners. … Overall, I’m pleased there’s still progress being made toward those community concerns.”
Public feedback also has been mixed. Late last year, Dillon launched a community survey asking residents and visitors to the ice castles for input on the proposed plans. There were a total of 154 respondents, of which 93 said they were in favor of a multiyear partnership with Ice Castles and 61 said they opposed the agreement. As a group, full-time residents narrowly opposed the agreement while other demographics, like part-time residents and local businesses, showed broad support.
The council also received dozens of community comments and letters ahead of the meeting, which showed widely disparate opinions on the concept. Many voiced they felt Ice Castles hasn’t done enough to alleviate their concerns, citing worries about traffic, flooding, trash, damage to the park and the opportunity costs of shutting the park to the public, among others.
Some spoke about their concerns at the meeting.
“We know Dillon is not seeing this financial impact,” Barn Richard said. “It is a regional impact encompassing a 200-mile radius from which Ice Castles claims to draw. Yet Dillon is providing free land, subsidized water, electricity, parking, storm sewer drainage, staff time and allowing damage to its park. … All of this is happening while visitor traffic — much of it day visitors who spend less on average — are stressing neighborhoods and infrastructure. … The costs to host Ice Castles in Town Park are too great to allow any agreement to continue.”
Other community members voiced strong support to keep the attraction at the park into the future, noting its unique charm and ability to drive visitors to the area.
“We took over (our business) because of the ice castles,” said Jeremy Szeszulski, owner of Cameez. “We knew we’d be able to stay in business because of it. If they left, we might either go out of business or have to move, which would be very unfortunate. We really like them, and we know they’re willing to respect town residents of Dillon. … We really need them, big time.”
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Winter Park approved an across-the-board raise for town staff that had initially been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic’s expected impact on the budget.