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Ferry: All bets are off in Vail

Kaye Ferry
Vail CO, Colorado

“I can’t believe that we’re starting over on this.” That was my first reaction to the town of Vail’s recent decision to start over on Timber Ridge.

But there’s more. And it’s the “more” that really concerns me. Let’s back up for a little history.

We got where we are today as a result of two developers being in a head-to-head battle over the redevelopment of the Lionshead parking structure. East-West Partners decided to sweeten the pot by offering to re-develop Timber Ridge also. That meant Open Hospitality had to do the same.

Time passed and East-West dropped out, leaving Open Hospitality. Enter Vail Resorts. But after much haggling, which was interrupted by the Arrabelle housing requirement debate, Open Hospitality was given the nod.

As a matter of fact, in one of the more embarrassing displays ever witnessed in the Vail Town Council chambers, Bobkat and the Broomfield boys were not even allowed to make their final presentation after making the long drive over the pass. This all happened on the final meeting of the previous Town Council.

Theoretically, from that point forward, it should simply have been a matter of working out a legal commitment between the town and Open Hospitality. But oh no. Not in our fair town where everybody has an opinion and is convinced that it’s the only one that matters. Because here, a change in elected officials means a change in opinion, and that means a change in policy, which results in a loss of credibility.

Open Hospitality had worked with the town of Vail for two years to get to the point where they were directed to hammer out a working agreement. Yet with the change in council seats, mainly driven by two council members who had never served before, there’s a new game in town. And on the final night for approval of the agreement, they changed the rules.

After insisting from day one that they, the town of Vail, were going to sell the land on the Timber Ridge site, they decided not to. And since Open Hospitality had made the ownership of the land the linchpin to their deal, the town voted to cease all negotiations with Open Hospitality and start over.

So another back-up explanation. Open Hospitality had been told by the town manager and the previous town council from the get-go that their first priority was to get the town of Vail out from under the $22 million debt on Timber Ridge. Buy the land or no deal. So they proceeded as if that was their only choice, no matter how many of us objected. And believe me, we objected.

But on the final night, the motion was made to start over: Don’t sell the land; start a master planning process; issue a new request for proposals. Open Hospitality wasn’t even allowed time at the podium to say if they would/could proceed under the new rules. After two years of good faith negotiations with the town of Vail, they were told to get in line when the new request for proposals is issued. Forget the time and money invested so far and start all over in the bidding war.

My reaction? Shameful. Here’s why.

Mark Masinter of Open Hospitality and his partners at Lincoln Property bent over backwards to strike a deal with the town. They didn’t enter into an agreement with councilman X or councilwoman Y. They were working with the organization known as the town of Vail. Which, in my opinion, transcends the personal opinions of each of the ever-changing cast of characters sitting behind that table in the Town Council chambers.

Is our word worth nothing? Should those attempting to work with the town need to be wary that after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours accommodating every request, all bets are off because a few faces change? Several developers have made it perfectly clear to me that after once dealing with the town of Vail, never again. Why? Because they “yank your chain.” Because they “squeeze until you scream.” And then they change the rules.

So I said more than that opening statement at the April 16 Town Council meeting. The town should have some integrity as an organization. And that integrity should not be fleeting. It should not be subject to manipulations because some new kids on the block think they’re smarter than those who sat there before them. And besides, they weren’t elected to slow things down or re-invent the wheel. In fact, they enthusiastically pledged to support housing during their campaigns. Is this the way to do it?

We need housing and we need it now. And we were this close to getting it. Now we have more studies and more meetings instead of beds. And a tarnished reputation to boot.

The town of Vail as an organization should transcend personal opinions and political posturing. And it should represent us with honesty, truthfulness and honor. Isn’t that what integrity means?

We missed that mark big time on this one. And we should all be embarrassed by how we’ve been represented.

Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.”

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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