Embracing Vail’s new scale
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL – Vail’s so-called Billion Dollar Renewal might be over in terms of construction, but some think it has only just begun.
Three major projects – Solaris, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons – are some of the largest buildings in town. Many locals believe only time will tell if those large buildings were the right decision for Vail.
“We have made a conscious choice to become a more urbanized community,” said longtime Vail resident Elaine Kelton. “It’s neither good nor bad – it’s a choice.”
Kelton was one of many longtime residents who had some reservations about the proposed projects when they were still in the planning phases. She said she opposed making more changes in town without a master plan in place. She also opposed changes to downtown zoning regulations.
Kelton believes that nothing can continue to successfully exist without change, but she’s happy the town is getting closer to being construction-free for a while.
“You have to have constant renewal,” Kelton said. “I’m so grateful to see things coming to completion.”
Vail’s visionaries never imagined the size and scale of buildings in town today, said longtime local Sheika Gramshammer. The visionaries wanted European touches everywhere – chalets and smaller-scale buildings.
Gramshammer feels some of the new sizes and architectural looks are too drastic of a change for Vail.
“We’re bringing the city into the mountains,” Gramshammer said.
She doesn’t blame developers like Peter Knobel, who built Solaris, for building their dream visions, though.
“But I blame the people who should have known better,” Gramshammer said. “I do believe in progress, updating and upgrading to being with the new age, but new age needs to have a little taste, too.”
Knobel said that while Solaris is large, its scale is broken up by the architecture and building materials.
“I think that if a building is architecturally brilliant and has the proper materials to bring down the scale, then it’s appropriate,” Knobel said.
Knobel said if Solaris were a giant building painted one color and made out of just one type of material, that it would be out of scale in Vail.
“We’ve heard nothing but rave reviews,” Knobel said.
Knobel defends the building’s size by the public benefits, mainly the public plaza and artwork that take up a sizable portion of the site’s footprint.
“If we didn’t build that town plaza, it would have taken out some of that mass and bulk,” Knobel said.
Joe Staufer, a Vail resident since Vail’s earliest days, said the size of the town’s new buildings are bigger than he’d like them to be, but he hopes they’re successful now that they’re finished.
“I hope that everything goes well and we get tourists back in the village,” Staufer said. “The worst thing that could happen to Vail would be failing buildings like the (Vail) Plaza Hotel was.”
Staufer thinks the Sonnenalp Hotel is the perfect size for Vail and thinks the town should have stayed with that size and style.
“I’m just one opinion. I hope they’re successful,” Staufer said.
Vail Town Councilwoman and Vail native Kerry Donovan thinks there are lessons to be learned from Vail’s new scale.
“I think what I see where we may have gotten off track is not so much just with the scale, but that we’re building to the maximum of the footprint and maximizing the height, too,” Donovan said. “I think we’ve probably learned a lot from those buildings – what works and what doesn’t work.”
Donovan doesn’t believe a few projects can change the entire character of the town.
“Vail is still the clock tower and Bridge Street,” Donovan said. “I’m not in love with the new buildings, but once they’re up, they’re up, and you can only learn from them and move on from there.”
Former Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz, who was heavily involved with getting Vail’s renaissance under way, said he has heard both positive and critical comments on the size of the new buildings. Architecture, however, is in the eye of the beholder, he said.
“I do think in terms of where we were, where we were getting a little old and little tired, to where we are today is a highly positive change overall,” Kurz said. “I think (the new buildings) fit within the context of Vail quite well, especially where they’re located.”
While Gramshammer believes in embracing what’s already been built, she hopes, like Donovan, the town will learn from these new projects.
“The town really has to be more careful in the future,” Gramshammer said.
Vail Homeowners Association Executive Director Jim Lamont isn’t ready to judge the new development yet. He thinks the town has work to do on adding more international business to the mix – business that would fuel the success of the new projects.
“I think it’s a very serious time,” Lamont said. “To sit back and think we can relax and all we have to do is throw open the doors and wait for people to come, think again.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.