VAIL — It’s been a while, but big construction is back in Vail.
Construction cranes dominated the town’s skyline for several years. But the national economic slump and resulting collapse of the area’s construction industry sent those structures into hibernation. This year, Vail is once again home to a big construction site, this one in Lionshead.
The project — approved as “Strata,” but soon to be re-named “The Lion” — is part of the pattern established in the previous decade: Replace something old with something new and spectacular. In this case, what’s being replaced is an old, small condo building and the even older VailGlo Lodge, which dates back to the 1970s.
The replacement to those old buildings will stretch over more than a town block and 1.5 acres of property in Lionshead. There will be a combination of whole-ownership and fractional-ownership condos, as well as 7,000 square feet of street-level commercial space.
George Ruther, director of the Vail Community Development Department, said this project is the biggest to start in town since the boom years in the last decade. It’s the biggest project start since work started on the Four Seasons, and in size, is roughly equivalent to The Sebastian hotel on Meadow Drive.
The Strata project was originally approved in 2009, just after the nation’s economy fell into a years-long funk. Its re-start is an indication of the developers’ optimism.
Eustacio Cortina has sold and developed real estate in Vail since the 1970s. He’s part of the group building the Strata project.
Speaking by phone from Mexico, Cortina said the development group decided to start for a few reasons.
The main reason is an improving national economy, Cortina said. In addition, there’s currently a tight market for condos in Vail. Those factors should help drive demand.
A third element to starting this year is the fact that the project had already sought two extensions of its town approvals and was coming up on needing another. Letting an approval lapse means a developer has to essentially start over in the town approval process, something that adds time and money to a project.
In this case, an extension of the 2009 approval also means the project remains exempt from the town’s employee housing requirements, since the town approved Strata before those requirements became law.
With work started, Cortina said he expects to have units available for sale by the end of 2016.
“They’re telling me 2016, but my heart tells me (it will be) early 2017,” Cortina said.
With work just starting, there will be some adjustments to the plan. Cortina said the project is approved for a mix of studio condos and units with between one and four bedrooms. The final mix hasn’t been set yet, Cortina said, although most units will have two or three bedrooms.
However many units are eventually included in the Strata project, the new building will be taller than the ones it replaces. The new building will also have its eastern main entrance and a good portion of retail space across the street from the Concert Hall Plaza bus stop.
While work is well underway, Cortina said it’s going to be some time before the new condos go on the market. The soonest pre-sales will start is late this year or early 2015, Cortina said. By then, the number of units and their size should be nailed down. Besides, he said, there’s a lot that can delay a big project.
“What if a crane falls down?” he said. “I’ve seen that (on another project), and it’s not good.”