Vail Daily column: Avon racing to a mirage
January 1, 2015
I can see the allure the Skier Building holds for Avon leaders.
It's a mirage, though, a shell built on the cheap, tempting the town to its peril as officials see what they want to see, overlooking barren reality that will become all too clear soon enough.
In other words, there's good reason the building has sat empty for a decade.
Oh, the facade is promising enough. I appreciate the logic I think I see in the town aiming to bring a measure of life to the building closer to the town center, clear more room by the lake or put a conference center at the current town hall site, and have fresh quarters for the staff and public that visits.
Alas, the flaws overpower the idyllic thinking and rush to buy up the building in a ready, fire, aim rashness. At least that's how observers with actual expertise in commercial real estate and commercial development view this after studying the town's plans.
Where to begin?
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Maybe with the appraisal of the building and price the town would pay. It's nice that this purchase would not raise taxes, but don't taxpayers have a little higher standard for stewardship than that?
Mark Kogan, a retired Goldman Sachs partner who has handled tens of billions of dollars in commercial real estate investments in his career at the firm and for his multi-generational family real estate business, quickly found that the appraisal for the town asserted the building was worth $3.2 million only if its underground parking were part of the purchase. It's not.
Town officials have listed the value of the property at $3.2 million in their "Skier Building Fact Sheet" for the public. Only that's not true. Not by a long shot. The building appraised at $2 million without the parking.
This and significantly higher cost estimates for renovation than the appraiser understood combine to lower the value of the building to as low as $1 million, in Kogan's and others' estimations.
Yet the town has the building under contract for $3.2 million anyway.
Meantime, the building inspector found cracks in the base concrete and the roofing on its way to wearing out, but missed what Vail Resorts found while looking twice into buying the building for office space: A water main possibly too small to serve the building, questionable electrical capacity, slow elevator and floors that may not safely support the weight of office people and their file cabinets.
Turns out the Skier Building was constructed as cheaply as possible to meet the town's terms enabling the owners to build the Sheraton time-share tower and hotel. And so the shell has sat empty ever since.
Oh, and to investigate the condition of the building, the town hired a home-inspection company instead of a licensed commercial building inspection firm. The inspection report itself clearly is oriented toward homes and condos, not commercial property.
Unless the town's voters muster higher wisdom, the town will not only overpay for the building, big clues abound that suggest the cost of renovations will likely run along the path of that infamous "fast-tracked" stage at Lake Nottingham. Those costs metastasized in a similar late rush to build in time for the Alpine World Ski Championships.
If that's not enough to slow down on this venture, there are other compelling reasons to exercise caution, too, at least to the knowledgeable critics.
I'll get into some of those next week, as space isn't available today to cover that ground.
Meantime, I can't shake this image of the town leadership as thirsty horses believing they've caught sight of water. The stampede is on, trampling prudence underfoot. That mirage looks so achingly real.
Only the voters can rein this in, if they look hard enough to recognize the mirage for what it is.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.
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