In my role as a Vail town council member, and particularly as Vail’s mayor, I’m often approached with questions or comments on a variety of issues. The topics can be as simple as how to report a street light outage or more complex such as the rationale we use in our decision making. Either way, the topics are important and I’m always delighted to learn what’s on people’s minds.
While attending the Vail Homeowners Association meeting recently, I was presented with a question: Are we keeping quality of life considerations on equal footing with our attention on growing the economy? The short answer is “yes.” A more detailed explanation is presented below.
A decade ago, we used to quibble about our identity. Is Vail a resort? Or is Vail a community? The answer was simple. We’re both. We agreed that Vail’s strength comes by balancing our resort and community qualities which, incidentally, are intertwined. This relationship is even reflected in our tax structure where income from sales and lodging taxes generated by tourism allows for relatively modest tax rates for property owners. In the 1980s, we even agreed to tax ourselves on real estate transactions to ensure our most coveted quality of life attributes — open space, parks and recreation — would never be neglected. Our tax structure was further diversified in 2007 when voters approved a construction use tax that strengthens our ability to invest in capital projects.
PROJECTS THAT IMPROVE QUALITY OF LIFE
In comparing our spending decisions over the past few years using the “equal footing” measure suggested by the Vail Homeowners Association, the balance between economic development and quality of life is quite remarkable given the challenges of the recession. For example, of the more than $57 million in major capital spending initiatives identified between 2010 and 2014, nearly $26 million is for projects that are benefiting our quality of life. These include a significant remodel of our public library, improved amenities at Ford Park and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, renovation of neighborhood parks, expanded bike lanes, plus continued progress on a large berm in East Vail to reduce highway noise as well as future improvements at the golf course. These are the types of projects that help define what it means to live in Vail and why guests like to come.
We’ve also set aside more than $8 million in community-based funding to improve our ability to deliver essential services to our neighborhoods. This includes construction of a new fire station in West Vail and an overhaul of the main Vail fire station. Replacement of the Matterhorn Bridge and an array of outlying street projects have also taken place.
On the economic front, we’ve been outperforming our competitors, in part, because of well-timed investments in upgrading our guest amenities and a commitment to special events. Projects totaling over $22 million are included in this category. Significant improvements in Lionshead have taken place with construction of the new transit center, the new welcome center and new streetscape. As we prepare for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, a remodel of the Welcome Center in Vail Village is planned. We’ll also be constructing a new entry to the Lionshead parking structure and introducing state of the art technology for the parking systems.
As we look to the future, we’ve set our sights on keeping our resort-community attributes strong and viable with projects such as the new Vail Interstate 70 underpass, helping to facilitate an expansion of Vail Valley Medical Center, redevelopment of the eastern half of the Timber Ridge Apartments, a new affordable housing development in West Vail, an intensified focus on our environment, including townwide recycling and improving the health of Gore Creek and, of course, the World Championships. Equal footing, indeed.
Andy Daly is serving his second term as Vail’s mayor. An itemized list of the projects mentioned above can be found on the town of Vail website at www.vailgov.com.