2013 in review: VR leases The Canyons
December 29, 2013
With 2013 almost all the way in the rearview mirror, it's time to take a look back at the high points, low points and various other points of the last 12 months. We'll start this section of our look back in May, which turned out to be a fairly busy "off season."
• The 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships put a temporary hold on a Vail event that's still in its infancy. The Vail Valley Foundation announced in May that the Winter Mountain Games would be put on hold for two years. The event was created in 2012 and held again in 2013. The next event is set for February of 2015.
• Get Dave Neely involved in an animated conversation about public lands, and he doesn't need a second cup of coffee that day. Neely, the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service's Eagle and Holy Cross ranger districts, was excited about what a large donation from the National Forest Foundation would help accomplish on local public lands this year, a list that included a sagebrush habitat project on the north side of Interstate 70 and a habitat-protection project at the top of Red Dirt Creek that will benefit both grazing cattle and greenback cutthroat trout, one of the few trout species native to the state.
• Vail Resorts president and CEO Rob Katz announced that the company had signed a long-term lease deal to operate the Canyons Resort, near Park City, Utah. The original lease between Vail Resorts and the Toronto-based Talisker Corp., which owns the roughly 4,000 acres of skiable terrain, is for 50 years, with an option for six 50-year extensions. Katz said the value of the original lease is approximately $310 million.
• A former Eagle County educator returned to lead the Eagle County school district. Jason Glass was hired to replace Sandra Smyser, who resigned her position here to be Superintendent of the Poudre School District in Fort Collins.
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Glass was Iowa's State Director of Education, serving as the state's chief state school officer. He was the human resources director for the Eagle County school district.
"I am thrilled to have been selected to lead Eagle County Schools," Glass said. "I look forward to connecting with the wonderful communities in the valley and to working with the incredible and talented Eagle County Schools employees in continuing to deliver a great education for Eagle County kids."
• The man who tried to burn down his ex-girlfriend's East Vail apartment building in September of 2012 was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Andrew Wells was charged with attempted murder, arson and stalking following the Sept. 22, 2012, incident in which he set fire to the East Vail apartment building, where he thought his ex-girlfriend was sleeping.
Wells's ex-girlfriend spoke to the courtroom before the sentencing, struggling to get the words out as she cried about the ordeal that had haunted her. She remembered Wells telling her that he would never hurt her when they met; he broke that promise again and again, she told the court.
• Vail Resorts announced that Vail Village would be a home base for summer lift for the first time since 2008.
Gondola One, which opened in 2012, began running in June. Businesses in Vail Village welcomed the news after four summers without summer lift access. Vail Mountain announced in April 2009 it would no longer run the Vista Bahn chairlift during the summer because there wasn't enough traffic volume to justify the operating expenses.
Gondola One, however, opened the doors to new and improved on-mountain experiences. The new Mid-Vail restaurant, The 10th, which opened during the 2011-12 winter season, hosted to many summer weddings, and Vail Mountain's Epic Discovery proposal, if approved, is expected to pave the way for new hiking and biking trails across Vail Mountain accessible via both gondolas.
• The Eagle County Democratic Party's vacancy committee selected Kathy Chandler-Henry to fill an open seat on the county's board of commissioners.
The seat was vacated effective July 1 by Jon Stavney, who accepted the job as the Eagle town manager.
• Cordillera's new management company promised residents that it would open two of its three golf courses during the summer, and it fulfilled that promise. It was the first time since 2010 that Cordillera's three 18-hole courses were open.
• The West Avon Preserve has been a developers' daydream for more than 30 years, but the parcel was dedicated as open space in June.
"This parcel has it all and it's protected forever. Not many things in life are protected forever, and this is," said Steve Conlin, Eagle Valley Land Trust board member.
The "conservation easement" — a legal document preventing future development — was signed May 9 as part of the historic Eagle Valley Land Exchange, a regional land swap that protects six parcels and more than 1,550 acres of local land.
"This is what open space is supposed to be," Avon Mayor Rich Carroll said at the dedication.
• Stone Creek Charter School moved its Eagle/Gypsum campus into the US Bank building across the street from Costco in Gypsum. The building is 30,000 square feet and it comes with 3.5 acres of land.
Stone Creek opened its western Eagle County campus in 2012 in a Gypsum commercial and residential building.
• All that late-spring snow helped, but didn't cure, the valley's lingering drought. A combination of warm temperatures, stiff winds and low humidity put Eagle County, along with virtually all the rest of Colorado's Western Slope, under a "red flag" warning in late June.
• A long-standing Vail Valley tradition returned July 3, when Avon's Salute to the USA kicked off the valley's Independence Day celebrations.
Fireworks are the big draw for Salute to the USA, as 2012's fireworks-free event proved. With the Vail Valley — along with the rest of Colorado — gripped in a historic drought, communities statewide cancelled their fireworks shows. While town officials put a brave face on the 2012 event, only hundreds, not thousands, of people turned out at the town's Nottingham Park.
Town recreation director John Curuchet said he'd been answering a lot of calls about whether the show would indeed go on, especially since Aspen, Crested Butte and several Front Range communities had cancelled their shows due to dry conditions.
• The Eagle County Regional Airport announced it would host its first international flight since a flight from Mexico City in the early 1990s this winter, when Air Canada would begin weekly service for the coming ski season.
The flight was engineered by Vail Resorts and Eagle County officials. Passengers coming to Eagle County will be "pre-cleared" through customs before leaving Canada, meaning there's no need for customs service at the commercial terminal.
• After 32 hearings spanning five and a half years, the Eagle County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a plan for a new community at Wolcott. The crowd applauded when the voting was done.
"We're pleased with the outcome, and thankful to the Jouflas family and our partners and look forward to the long road ahead," said Rick Hermes, whose Community Concepts will build the community.
The Jouflas family, which owns the ranch, sat through every hearing. Various projects and master plans have been percolating since the 1980s, and the family sat through most of those meetings, too.
Chris Jouflas, the silver-haired patriarch of the Jouflas family, moved slowly to the podium for one of his rare public statements.
"You've done a magnificent job," he said, complimenting the county staff and commissioners. "To do all you have done is wonderful."
• Avon took over the winter music festival WinterWonderGrass. The acoustic bluegrass and craft brew festival's promoter, Scotty Stoughton, said the event, which will take place at Nottingham Park in February, will attract an older and less rowdy crowd than SnowBall, the last festival he brought to the park.
"I think the Nottingham Lake site is a wonderful site that we can develop into a premier mountain music and beer festival site," Stoughton said. "This type of music brings a lot of similar-minded type of people out. My experience has been very positive as far as safety, police involvement, fights and drug distribution — It's just not that crowd … they come with a higher level of respect, they come with a higher income level, and they really appreciate these types of events."
• Town of Avon officials asked for an outside opinion regarding some residents' allegations that two town council members had violated the town's code of ethics.
Council members Chris Evans and Todd Goulding were questioned during the summer by members of the public regarding involvement by the company they work for in a project supported by the town. Those questions quickly turned into formal complaints, and mayor Rich Carroll called for a special meeting to hear out the issue.
While Carroll questioned whether or not an investigation was necessary, he said in this instance, any investigation should be conducted by an independent third party and not the council itself.
• The town of Minturn broke ground on a multi-million dollar fitness center at Maloit Park.
And, despite the fact that World-Cup athletes will use the facility, stakeholders in the new Minturn Fitness Center project include anyone and everyone, as the high-level facility will be open to the general public.
"Imagine it like an regular, open-door rec center, only about as state-of-the-art as you can get," said John Cole, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail's human performance director.
If everything goes to plan, the new fitness center will be open in the first half of 2014, a testament to how smoothly the partnership between Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and the town of Minturn — which made the idea a reality — has gone.
Minturn and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail are each contributing $1 million toward the project, with Minturn's portion coming from funds that had been locked up in escrow dating back to the Battle Mountain development project of 2007.
• The legal fight over the future of the Vail Golf Club took a decisive step in August with a judge ruling in favor of the town in one of the several complaints filed by golf course neighbors.
District Court Judge Frank Plaut ruled Aug. 16 that the town can proceed with a plan to change the 18th hole at the golf course. Town officials planned to re-locate the 18th green at the course, changing the hole from a par-five to a par-four. Plaut denied the course neighbors' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the work.
Those neighbors have also sued the town for a plan to build a new clubhouse at the course, claiming that current plans for the clubhouse violate a "covenant" — limitations put on golf course property use in the original sale contract. That suit continues to work its way through the legal system. Neighbors claim the clubhouse project as currently proposed would violate the contract's limits of the former Pulis Ranch property to open space and recreation.
• Tara Picklo was expecting a big crowd for the Vail leg of the USA Pro Challenge cycling race. She got more than she expected.
"It was our biggest day ever — bigger than the Fourth of July," said Picklo, the co-owner of the Yeti's Grind coffee shop in Vail Village. While the crowds were biggest in Vail Village, there were thousands of people along the 10-mile time trial route. The Vail Valley Foundation, which helped bring the cycling tour to Vail and Beaver Creek, estimated the Vail crowd at about 25,000. That's a lot of people, but John Dakin, Vail Valley Foundation vice president of communications, said the crowd might have been a bit smaller than the one at the event's past time trial on Vail Pass, which was in 2011.
• One family-run company now owns most of the commercial real estate in the older part of Avon. Osprey Capital, the commercial real estate holding company of the Hoffmann family, of Chicago, in August announced that it had either purchased or has a contract to buy several commercial properties in town, adding up to more than 250,000 square feet. Work has already started on renovations and improvements at Benchmark Plaza and the Christy Sports building.
Hoffmann said he and his family have been coming to the Vail Valley on ski vacations for more than 30 years and saw the potential in the older part of the town.