VAIL - Vail officials are starting to look at just what they'll build if they decide to create a new municipal complex, but they have other questions to answer, too.
The Vail Town Council spent several hours discussing the project Tuesday, learning about possible designs, possible legal moves to approve and pay for the facility and how it all might affect the community.
Town officials and executives from the Vail Valley Medical Center, the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute have for the past several months been working on a proposal that would create a roughly 55,000 square feet medical office space at the town's municipal complex. The medical building would replace the town's existing community development department offices, as well as the town's recycling center and the helipad for medical helicopter flights.
Moving the helipad is a big deal. Early plans call for temporarily moving the pad to Ford Park, but there's no clear answer where the facility would move permanently, and that bothers both council members and residents.
"I can't believe it would be there long term at Ford Park," resident Gwen Scalpello said.
Vail Valley Medical Center CEO Doris Kirchner said a permanent location for the helipad will be included as the hospital continues with a new master plan.
The project would also include about 200 new parking spaces and replace existing town offices on the site. The town's police headquarters would be left in place.
Town community development department director George Ruther Tuesday gave council members an update on the options drawn up by his department and Triumph Development, the company hired to do the feasibility study for the project.
Those options mostly revolve around parking and the height of the new building, but town council members also wanted to know what the town would do with the roughly 20 percent more space the new building would create.
But the bigger questions are the way the town will convey property to the medical partners. Michael O'Conner of Triumph Development explained a possible "memorandum of understanding" between the public and private partners. Under that proposed contract, Triumph would buy the land from the town, build the medical office building and parking structure, and then sell the building to the medical center, the clinic and research institute.
Council member Margaret Rogers said that agreement, if ultimately approved, will have to have ironclad assurances that whatever medical offices are built will remain in the hands of the medical partners.
If the deal does go through, the town is also researching ways to pay for the new municipal building. One option would be paying cash - the town has roughly $40 million in various reserve funds. But the town is also looking into using "certificates of participation" to pay for the project.
Those certificates, essentially a series of one-year contracts for financing, don't require voter approval. And Mayor Andy Daly said the certificates could be repaid with $2.3 million per year that's already allocated for debt service, since much of the town's existing debt will be paid at the end of this year.
But county resident Michael Cacioppo, a vocal defender of the state's TABOR amendment - which requires voter approval of tax increases and caps on spending - argued that a decision to sell town property to a private enterprise ought to go to voters.
Council member Margaret Rogers disagreed, saying "That's what we're elected to do."
While there are a lot of big decisions to be made about the plan, those decisions will have to be made quickly - a preliminary schedule has construction starting in May of 2013. But quick decisions aren't something that often happen in Vail.
Vail resident Jim Lamont, who lives near the hospital and is also the executive director of the Vail Homeowners Association, urged council members to make sure they had the fine details worked out before signing off on the project.
"We can't expect the community in general to embrace a lesser quality of life so a relatively few people can benefit," Lamont said.