Hotel, housing planned for Roost Lodge site in Vail
VAIL — Vail needs hotel rooms, apartments and parking. A Chicago-area developer believes he can deliver healthy doses of all three to the town, perhaps as soon as late 2018. The Harp Group, a Chicago-area hospitality development company, has for a few years owned roughly two acres of property in West Vail, the site of the old Roost Lodge. The company a couple of years ago announced it would build a Marriott Residence Inn on the site. The group went through the town's approval process, and was ready to start construction — until the group's financial partner in the project decided in 2014 that the numbers didn't work the way they should and the project was shelved. Now the plan is back, but with some significant changes. The new proposal includes a 170-room hotel, 113 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 360 parking spaces. There's actually more parking than the town requires for the hotel and apartments, which means the remaining spaces could be leased to another user or used for private parking. The broader scope of the project began when members of the Vail Housing Authority approached Harp Group founder and president Peter Dumon. "They asked us for help," Dumon said. Dumon has a long history with Vail. While a student at the University of Notre Dame, he and friends would take the 16-hour drive to and from Vail a couple of times a month. Given that there were no smartphones at the time, the people who weren't driving usually stuck their heads in their books. "My grades actually went up," Dumon said. The Harp Group has other connections with Vail. Dumon said one of his partners was the first general manager of the current Marriott hotel at the west end of Lionshead Village. As such, Dumon said, "we know the challenges here." Filling big needs As Vail and the valley have grown, Dumon said he and his partners see the new project filling several needs in the valley. Given that Vail's lodging is nearly full on most summer and winter weekends, there seems to be room for more hotel rooms. The need for housing and parking is more pressing. Dumon said he and his partners looked at building only apartments. In the end, though, the combination of a hotel and rental units — for year-round residents only — seemed to make the most sense. And, while the building is going to be bigger than the one first approved by the Vail Design Review Board and Vail Planning and Environmental Commission, Vail Town Planner Dominic Mauriello said the new proposed structure isn't vastly bigger than the first design. Mauriello said that the new plan would add roughly one story to the building's height and add one level to the below-ground parking. Adding that space also required adjusting the rooms themselves. The resulting hotel rooms will be a bit smaller, and will also be laid out in a more rectangular shape, as opposed to the traditional square of most hotel rooms. But the big news is the apartments. The proposed 113 units equals the number recently completed at Lions Ridge, the eastern half of the Timber Ridge apartments property. And, Mauriello said, the number of apartments proposed may be the most built by a private developer in Vail since the original Timber Ridge project in the early 1980s. Vail Housing Authority board member Steve Lindstrom praised the proposal in a release, calling it a "very meaningful project that addresses not only employee housing goals of the town, but parking and lodging goals as well." The same release also included a statement from Eagle County Housing Director Jill Klosterman. In that statement, Klosterman noted in particular the need for one-bedroom apartments, as well rental housing close to employment centers. Harp Group will have some of its own employees to take care of, and Dumon said the hotel will use a few units, but not many. In the main the new apartments will be aimed at year-round residents who may be chefs, store managers or Vail Valley Medical Center employees. Paying market rates That target audience will pay market rates, and Dumon acknowledged that the entire project won't be aimed at people looking for low-cost housing or lodging. The Residence Inn brand provides travelers with full kitchens in every units, as well as a full breakfast in the morning, fitness centers and other amenities. Some of the amenities will be available to apartment residents. In addition, there's enough parking for one car per bedroom. Tenants will have the option of leasing a storage box for a parking space. That box will essentially cover the hood of a car, and will have hooks for hanging bikes and other gear. Storage is important for hotel tenants, too. Dumon said he's working on a deal for ski and boot storage close to the slopes. Add in easy access to transit — a bus ride to Lionshead Village will take only a few minutes once the new Interstate 70 underpass is finished — and Dumon believes a guest may not need a car for a Vail vacation, particularly since the hotel plans to offer shuttle service to the slopes of both Vail and Beaver Creek. The project will be submitted to Vail's planning staff soon. That can take some time, but Dumon said he believes the project can earn its final approvals in early 2017, with construction starting as soon as next spring. Mauriello said he's more optimistic, and that the approvals could be in place before the end of this year. "If this isn't the right project in the right place, I don't know what is," he said.