Boulder chamber director tapped to run Vail
The head of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Stanley Zemler, has been hired to run Vail, filling the town manager’s post vacated by Bob McLaurin this spring.
Zemler, 54, who began his career with the Environmental Protection Agency, has been the president and chief executive officer of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce since 1997. Prior to that, he was Boulder’s deputy city manager, also spending three months in the role of acting city manager.
“Vail is a great place. It has a great reputation and it has the flair and excitement of a larger community,” Zemler said Friday. “I was drawn to the sophistication.”
Zemler, who takes over on Oct. 6, is married and has three daughters. He says he is an avid outdoorsman and does a lot of skiing, mountain biking, hiking and fly fishing.
He was chosen from a field of more than 150 candidates after a firm hired by the town conducted a nationwide search.
Zemler said he also was attracted to Vail by the variety of redevelopment and revitalization projects planned in both the village and Lionshead. Among those projects are Vail’s extensive renovation of Lionshead, a redesign of the base of Vail Mountain in Vail Village, a conference center and a batch of new luxury hotels.
“You’ve got a lot of great things happening,” he says. “I think Vail is on the precipice of its next big surge.”
Zemler comes to Vail while the town is struggling to adapt to a changing economy and a several-year slump in the sales taxes that are the backbone of the government’s treasury.
Mayor Ludwig Kurz, other town council members and a citizens’ committee conducted several interviews in Boulder to get a sense of their candidate. Kurz said Zemler has a reputation there for building consensus among various– and sometimes antagonistic – political interests.
“His reputation is that he has a great way of getting disparate and differing groups together and moving in the same direction,” Kurz said. “We talked to over a dozen people in Boulder and that was the overriding message we got.”
Zemler’s experience leading Boulder’s business community, particularly his involvement in several redevelopment projects, also was compelling, Kurz said.
“What stood out is how rounded he is for this kind of a position,” Kurz said. “He is not only a pure town manager. He has some qualifications and qualities that we believe go beyond that. We think that’s going to help as we move the town forward.”
Councilman Rod Slifer, who also visited Boulder, said the town was encouraged by Zemler’s mix of private sector and government experience.
“His background and experience, I think, fit perfectly with what we need. He was assistant city manager in Boulder and was there a long time – that’s a very political and difficult job,” Slifer said. “He then moved on to the chamber, which is a big chamber. The person we need, needs both of those skills.”
Boulder, like Vail, is in the midst of several redevelopment projects, including an extensive upgrade of its downtown core and a long, controversial reconstruction of Broadway which has snarled traffic for more than a year. Slifer said he thinks Zemler’s experience is important.
“That’s exactly what we’re going to be doing here in Vail over a period of time,” Slifer said. “I think he’s really focused and a guy that’s going to be well received and do a swell job.”
Zemler said he has spent time in Vail during the past few months, attending various town council and other community meetings. He said Boulder has a similar level of civic and economic activism.
“I’m very big on inclusive government and giving people a chance to have a seat at the table,” Zemler said.
He also said there are other similarities between Boulder, a college town, and the ski resort; both, for example, have to contend with local employees’ needs for affordable housing.
Zemler, who founded Boulder’s Office of Environmental Affairs, said he has plenty of experience balancing the environment and the economy.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the last six years trying to work through the conversation of how do you have the level of environmental protection you want and a level of economic vitality,” Zemler said.
Town governments have to be flexible when supporting the local economy, he said.
“One of the things I’ve been able to do very successfully in Boulder is help business people understand what government is and help the government understand the issues business people have,” he said. “I think the government needs to be a little more nimble as the economy shifts.”
Over the last few years, both communities have also faced a slowdown in the sectors of the economy they had depended on for their prosperity, Zemler said.
“I think Vail, like many other communities, has to make a shift,” Zemler says.
Bill Jensen, the chief operating officer of Vail Mountain and a member of the citizens’ committee that helped select Zemler, said he expects Zemler to build trust.
“Stan brings an ideal mix of skills to the Vail town manager position,” Jensen said. “His track record in city government and the Boulder business community has demonstrated strong leadership skills as a consensus builder and a reputation as someone who consistently is moving forward.”