Can a big ‘green Vail Valley resort succeed?
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Bob Trotter, general manager of the Vail Valley’s Westin Riverfront Resort, has been in the hospitality business a long time. He’ll be the first to acknowledge it’s not the most environmentally-efficient industry in the world. But his latest job is different.The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon was built from the ground up to be as “green” as possible, and proved it earlier this year when it officially received a “silver” designation from the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design, or LEED, program. The Westin claims to be the first hotel project in the state to earn that certification.Getting certified wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that much more expensive than using conventional building methods.”It probably added 2 to 5 percent to our construction costs,” Trotter said.But getting certified required a lot of planning, and, in some cases, special arrangements with suppliers.For instance, the wallboard coming from the American Gypsum drywall factory in Gypsum is generally shipped to warehouses in Denver and elsewhere. To help the Westin comply with a LEED requirement for getting materials as close to the job site as possible, the developers struck a deal with the factory to ship drywall directly from Gypsum to Avon. Builders had to find roof tiles made from recycled tires, and used a water-treatment system in the swimming pool that uses salt, not chlorine, to purify the water.Beyond the building, getting LEED-certified also meant the Westin had to restore a stretch of riverbank and put in a garden condo owners and the Avondale restaurant can use.”East West Partners (the project developers) had one of the last, best parcels in the valley, and they wanted to do the right thing,” Trotter said. “They realized they were putting a pretty substantial development into a pristine environment.”
The story is a little different in Vail. There, Vail Resorts’ proposed Ever Vail project will put a gondola, condos, retail shops and more onto a site west of Lionshead. Part of that property, though, is an old gas station with contaminated soil, what people in the sustainability business call a “brownfield.” That will have to be cleaned up before anything else can be built.While the Westin earned its “silver” certification, Vail Resorts has stated Ever Vail will earn the program’s “platinum” designation.Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kristin Kenney Williams said seeking LEED certification for its latest proposed project is an offshoot of how the company does business these days. “It’s a huge commitment on our part, how we can incorporate environmental stewardship into a real estate project,” Kenney Williams said. “The company’s vision was evolving and the thinking was ‘let’s be a leader in this.'”Kenney Williams said earning the “platinum” designation will involve everything the Westin did, and then some. The biggest, perhaps, is putting 48 employee housing units – 80 percent of what town regulations will require – into the mountainside project, so employees won’t have to commute.
While this pair of developers made the decision to seek recognition for their sustainability efforts, the marketplace so far seems a little behind the vision. Part of that may be that it’s hard for travelers to notice roof tiles or swimming-pool filters.What guests will notice at the Westin are the big and numerous windows – installed so the project will use less artificial light in the day – and, perhaps, the use of carpet and paint manufactured to emit fewer “volatile organic compounds,” the source of “new home smell.” A lot of people are sensitive, if not allergic, to those compounds, so the Westin is easier on their systems. People will also notice some of the programs the Westin has in place. Guests can receive carbon credits for staying there, a program in which guests agree to go a few days without housekeeping changing the sheets or the towels can earn points in the chain’s travel program.So far, though, the response to those programs has been limited.On the other hand, a recent survey by TripAdvisor.com indicates that about two-thirds of travelers see green initiatives as a good thing, and more than 25 percent said they make their travel choices based, at least in part, on how green a destination is.The real impact so far, Trotter said, has been from potential corporate clients.”Almost every request for proposals (for group business) these days wants to know about our green initiatives,” Trotter said. And, he added, some Colorado companies are very, very interested in how green their meeting place is. Trotter said he’s certain the Westin landed a corporate meeting of the Chipotle restaurant chain because of its LEED certification.”People are asking the question more and more,” Trotter said. “And we all need to start doing our part.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.