2014 recap: Leaving a good, sometimes troubled, year
EAGLE COUNTY — The world outside the Vail Valley has been a troubled place this year. Some of that trouble has come to us, but, for the most part, we continue to live in a remarkable place.
Still, it was a busy year — far too busy to sum up the news in one relatively short piece. So we’ll try to hit the high points here, acknowledging right now that something important will slip through. We’ll break this down into categories that aren’t necessarily dependent on the calendar but rather importance.
• Remember just a couple of years ago, when there were deals to be had in the real estate market and it was easy to find a place to rent? Well, those days are over.
The hundreds of homes that went into foreclosure in 2009, 2010 and 2011 have just about all worked their way through the legal and financial systems. That’s good.
The less-good news is that there’s a distinct lack of for-sale inventory right now. Prices have rebounded a bit, but remain far below the highs set in 2007.
Still, lack of inventory across the market will, at some point, lead to more construction. That new construction, though, is significantly more expensive than it was just a couple of years ago, due in large part to a labor shortage.
• On the rental side, employers and employees continue to scramble to find places for people to live. Employers are complaining about filling seasonal positions, and rental rates have risen.
The market will get some relief at the end of 2015, when new apartments are available on the Timber Ridge property in Vail. Still, it’s hard to find housing and will continue to be.
The world is coming
• The entire valley has been scrambling to complete preparations for the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships in February. The valley looks wonderful, as hotels, small businesses and towns try to spruce up the place to welcome the world. Vail’s roundabouts are spectacular at night, and Avon’s roundabouts on Avon Road are a wonderful welcome mat for the events.
• There are on-mountain improvements at Beaver Creek, including a new “chondola,” a hybrid chairlift/gondola. While the thing sounds as if it was named by Cheech & Chong, the chondola accomplishes what the Gondola One lift out of Vail Village did: It adds about 30 percent to the lift capacity out of the main portal to the mountain.
Trouble in Avon
• The full-speed-ahead pace of getting ready for the Championships has sometimes brought some rough sailing, particularly in Avon. A plan to build a new stage at Nottingham Park quickly spiraled out of control. What was once envisioned as a “bandstand” has become a pavilion. Along with the broader scope of the project came higher costs, nearly doubling the original estimate.
• The town also created controversy with a long-negotiated but only briefly-public attempt to buy The Skier Building near the town’s recreation center. Town officials say the building is a great way to get the town a new town hall along what’s expected to one day be a busy pedestrian area.
Several residents have objected strongly enough to the plan to force a special election. If successful, that election will short-circuit plans for the purchase.
• In a snow-driven economy, snow is a great, great thing, and we’ve been blessed by bunches of the white stuff. A remarkably good start to the year — despite the traffic nightmare in February when feet of snow hit on a Sunday — has continued into the new ski season. People who have been here for decades report they can’t remember when the snow at Christmas has been better than it is now.
Revel in it, friends.
• As it often is, Vail is the valley’s prime economic engine. A full-bore dedication to boosting visitation through events has brought record sales tax revenues in the summer. Winter sales tax revenues for the 2014-15 season are expected to finally surpass the records set in the 2007-08 season.
• Along with an improving economy has come a lot of renovation and some new construction.
The old Roost Lodge has been torn down to make way for an extended-stay hotel, and the aforementioned project at Timber Ridge will add more than 100 new apartments to the town.
Elsewhere, any number of hotels have upgraded their rooms and/or conference spaces. Even the relatively new Four Seasons in Vail is on a mission to upgrade some of its facilities.
That’s all good news. It’s putting people to work and perhaps, leading to the day when Vail Resorts decides it’s finally time to start the Ever Vail project.
• The big news from Vail Resorts this year was its purchase of Park City Mountain Resort. Combined with the adjacent Canyons Resort, the deal created the largest aggregation of skiable terrain in North America. The resort company also announced plans for new lifts and restaurants at the resorts. We’ll all be very interested to see how it turns out.
• Vail Valley Medical Center is a nonprofit, but the hospital brings a lot of business to Vail. The medical center continues to work on plans for a $100 million expansion that will include a new helipad, new emergency room and other improvements. The medical center and the Evergreen Lodge are also working on a land exchange that could make it a bit easier to route almost all hospital traffic off of West Meadow Drive and onto South Frontage Road.
• Call it green gold. Recreational marijuana has hit the valley in a big way, especially in Eagle-Vail, where the neighborhood’s commercial area is now being called the Green Mile.
Meanwhile, all the valley’s town’s except Eagle continue with either moratoria or outright bans on medical and recreational pot.
• Air Canada launched a flight from Toronto to the Eagle County Regional Airport. There were some first-season stumbles, and the airline scaled back the schedule a bit for this season. Unlike the inaugural season, Air Canada also asked for a revenue guarantee for the 2014-15 season.
Still, it’s air service to and from an international destination.
• The reductions in air service that started in 2008 seem to have finally leveled off. Still, there are roughly 90,000 fewer seats flying into our airport than there were in 2007. The EGE Air Alliance, a group made up of businesses and local governments, is working on a way to help bring more flights into the airport. But that means money. Expect the alliance early next year to announce plans to ask county voters for approval of some sort of tax funding for the revenue guarantees necessary to lure new flights.
• While a Republican wave hit most of the rest of the country, Eagle County remained mostly Democratic territory.
The exception was Republican James van Beek, who ousted current Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy in a June primary election, then went on to barely win in November over Democrat Daric Harvey.
Running as in independent in 2010, van Beek lost to Hoy by fewer than 100 votes. This year, he edged Harvey by a mere 58 votes.
• The three-person board of Eagle County Commissioners remained in Democratic hands, with appointed incumbent Kathy Chandler Henry winning her first election. In the race to replace term-limited incumbent Sara Fisher, Eagle County School Board President Jeanne McQueeney prevailed over Republican Dick Mayne.
• Perhaps the biggest news, though, is that Eagle County finally sent a Vail local to serve in the Colorado Legislature. Vail native Kerry Donovan, a Democrat, won a term in the Colorado Senate over Republican Don Suppes, of Orchard City, which is in Delta County.
Donovan’s election marks the first time since 1992 that a county resident has held a seat in the state legislature.
Eagle County is an extraordinarily safe place — violent crime is rare. But we covered a handful of disturbing incidents this year.
• The first came in April, when a 13-year-old Gypsum boy shot and killed his father in the home they shared. The boy, now 14, this month pleaded guilty to the crime and will spend the next 10 years in juvenile and adult prisons.
• On May 8, Colorado State Patrol officers Eugene Hofacker and Shane Gosnell were driving to Glenwood Springs for a morning conference. On the way, the troopers pulled over in Glenwood Canyon, just inside Garfield County, to check out, and possibly help, a motorist parked on the shoulder of Interstate 70.
That motorist was Thomas Ornelas, a man with a long, violent criminal history.
When Hofacker approached Ornelas’ vehicle, Ornelas opened fire, seriously wounding the trooper.
Gosnell returned fire, killing Ornelas.
Hofacker survived and continues to recover.
Gosnell has rightly been praised for his quick reaction in ending the incident before it got much, much worse.
• Garrett LaForce, a teacher at Eagle Valley High School and the school’s varsity volleyball coach, was killed in a July 4 auto accident near Telluride.
• A former Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy has been charged with three counts of sexual assault in connection with a Sept. 18 incident.
Timothy Joseph Hay could face up to life in prison if convicted on all counts. A trial is set for 2015.
• The evening of Dec. 12, Douglas Behrends shot and killed Brooks Hampton at Behrends’ apartment in Burns. Behrends is claiming he acted in self-defense after Hampton broke into Behrends’ home.
Prosecutors and police continue to investigate the case.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.
Town weighs its long-term viability vs. small-town character