Ferry: Backroom antics play out in Vail
Vail CO, Colorado
Just when I think I’ve seen it all, bang, out of nowhere comes a showstopper. And in case you missed it, catch it on channel 5. But unfortunately, unless you were there, it’s impossible to get the sense of the room.
You guessed it. I’m talking about the Vail Town Council’s last meeting. What some would call a swan song turned in to one of the most embarrassing moments I have ever witnessed in those chambers.
And what’s ironic is that a tactic which was meant to embarrass Vail Resorts actually served as an embarrassment to us by way of our elected officials. So here’s what happened.
As you know, Vail Resorts and the town have been in heated disputes over many issues lately. The most pressing at the moment has to do with Arrabelle, the main question centering around whether or not the ski company has met the requirements necessary for the town to issue them a temporary certificate of occupancy on the project.
And to clarify, the real focus of contention is the issue of housing. It’s been clear since day one that Vail Resorts was required to replace the 144 beds lost at the Sunbird. What isn’t clear is whether those requirements are currently being met by way of the five years remaining on the lease that the ski company has at Timber Ridge. And the waters are further muddied by the fact that certain members of the Town Council were on a mission to award the Timber Ridge development to Open/Hillwood of Dallas. I’ll get back to that later.
As tempers flared, voices raised and insults exchanged. An impasse seemed to be in the making, something that was exacerbated by both sides believing they were not only right, but in fact held the trump card.
As no agreement could be reached behind closed doors, the Town Council chambers were chosen for the next bout on Nov. 7. And as rumors of a showdown spread through the community, the chambers filled while disciples of town politics waited for a public display of the fireworks that were rumored to have occurred in private.
What was supposed to happen was a presentation by Vail Resorts (agenda item No. 8) followed by another by the Texas developer Open/Hillwood (agenda item No. 9) specifically regarding plans for the redevelopment of the Timber Ridge employee housing site. What did happen was quite another story.
When item No. 7 was completed, Mayor Rod Slifer and Councilman Mark Gordon recused themselves due to their Vail Resorts connection. The town attorney then informed them that they were also required to leave the room at which point the mayor pro-tem said “Don’t go far,” an odd comment at the time, but not so as the night played on. Because in retrospect, it was an evening that clearly was thoroughly scripted beforehand.
In fact, earlier in the afternoon, Vail Resorts got wind that their agenda item might be tabled, allowing no presentation. And clearly, the word “might” was an understatement. There was no intention of allowing Mr. Rob Katz to present anything.
Instead, Open/Hillwood not only singularly presented their options but were given a “handshake”and “head nod” to proceed with an “agreement to negotiate” in order to “pull the trigger” on an April start date. Remember, with no alternate proposal heard, and all this “regardless of the outcome of the Lionshead parking structure” negotiations with Vail Resorts.
To what end did they fill the room with representatives of the resort company when the outcome was predetermined? One can only speculate. But first I will tell you what I was told by an unnamed town official. The intent was to keep the door open for the next council to negotiate. But first and foremost was the goal of keeping both councilmen Greg Moffet and Kent Logan from unloading on Vail Resorts as their last public stand. To spare Vail Resorts public embarrassment.
Believe that if you like. I don’t buy it. It was a last ditch attempt to award, however potentially temporary, the Timber Ridge project to the Dallas group. But more importantly, it was raging testosterone meant to show Vail Resorts exactly who was in charge. And secondarily, it was staged to put pressure on Vail Resorts and Open/Hillwood to work jointly on the Timber Ridge project.
And to ice the cake, in case there was any doubt as to the town’s intent, in the hall outside when it was over, the town manager congratulated Mark Masinter of the Dallas group stating “It went according to plan.” Plan? What plan? Whose plan?
So you’ll never really know what went on because it was orchestrated in the proverbial “backroom”. But what I do know is this. It was rude. And patently arbitrary. And it stunk. It stunk last Tuesday and it still stinks, no matter what explanations I’ve heard all week.
And remember I said I’d get back to the proposals on Timber Ridge? The two original proposals surfaced during Open/Hillwood and East West Partners’ bids for the Lionshead parking structure redevelopment. When East West withdrew, the Dallas proposal was left.
As things progressed, Vail Resorts threw its hat into the ring also. But never was a request for proposal issued for the project. The town would tell you that they’re covered by the proposal request that was issued in 2005 when a response from the company, Corum, was determined to be unacceptable.
There’s probably some legal mumbo jumbo that can be given but I would say it certainly skirts the issue. The two current proposals on the table have nothing to do with the 2005 request for proposal. In fact, nobody had even heard of Open/Hillwood at that point because we didn’t start the Lionshead parking structure discussion until spring 2006.
Pure and simple. It’s called stacking the deck. So you decide. Is that how you like to see your government at work?
Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.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.