Ford Park parking battle looms
Vail Resorts officials in recent weeks have tentatively floated the notion of bringing back ski-season parking on the Ford Park athletic fields, but there are some key players in the community just waiting to sink the idea.”If it’s a temporary situation on Ford Park until that deck is built on the Lionshead Parking Structure and they have the employee parking built on the maintenance yard, then that’s one thing,” says Vail businessman Joe Staufer, “but if it’s a permanent solution, I’m very much against it.”In 2001, Staufer led a group seeking voter approval for a Vail charter amendment that would have made any council decision subject to citizen appeal. His impetus for the failed initiative was saving Ford Park.”That was basically my primary concern at that time, because I had heard all kinds of wild things about what (Vail Resorts) wanted to do at Ford Park,” Staufer says.In April, Vail Resorts CEO Adam Aron told The Vail Trail that the company was studying Ford Park as a potential fix for Vail’s day-skier parking gridlock on South Frontage Road, but added it was just one of many solutions the ski company was exploring because ” Ford Park is going to be a contentious public debate.”At last week’s council meeting, Aron offered $4.3 million for a fourth deck on the Lionshead Parking Structure if the town moves the voter-approved $46 million conference center right next door to the town-owned Hub Site, freeing up the ski company’s Holy Cross maintenance yard site for employee parking displaced by the Lionshead redevelopment. But Aron makes it clear he’d still like to use the Ford Park athletic fields for day-skier parking.And at least one Vail Village merchant agrees with Aron. Daily Grind owner and Vail Chamber and Business Association board member Kaye Ferry acknowledges there’s a strong anti-Ford-Park-parking contingent, but says permanent parking on the athletic fields, using mats that keep the grass alive, makes sense.”You’d think that Christ was born on that spot,” she said of the naysayers in an earlier interview, adding that some merchants feel Ford Park parking funnels skiers straight to the Golden Peak base area and away from shops in Vail Village. “If it’s (Front Range) Buddy Pass (day skiers) who go to Ford Park, I don’t really care.”Front Ranger day skiers, increasingly lured to Vail by discount season ski passes, are largely viewed as more spend-thrift than destination skiers who fly in for a week and stay in local hotels.Staufer disagrees with Ferry: “Ford Park was not bought by the Vail taxpayers to solve the day skier problem for Vail Resorts. If a day skier parks in Ford Park, crosses the bridge to Gold Peak, goes up on the mountain to ski, then comes back to Gold Peak and gets in his car and goes back to Denver, he doesn’t even see Vail, and that is the problem.”If there should be some benefit of the day skier, it should be that he walks through the town and may be encouraged to stay there or buy something. (Otherwise) he has no chance to spend a dime in the village and the only beneficiary of the parking over there is Vail Resorts.”Satufer says he would not oppose temporary parking on the fields if mats are put in place to ensure the grass is not damaged for spring and summer use.That might be a problem, says Vail parking manager Mike Rose. “By far it’s not an ideal solution,” Rose says of Ford Park parking.In the mid-1980s, Rose says the fields were used for temporary parking while a 350-space expansion of the Vail Village Parking Structure was under way. When the expansion was completed in time for the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships, the practice was discontinued, and parking was again limited to the existing lots near Ford Park, which accommodate between 200 and 225 cars, Rose says.Parking on the fields added 250 spaces, Rose says, but “there’s a cost associated with that.”Rolling out and picking up the vintage World War II landing mats (used for temporary air fields) cost the town, as did sod replacement if the mats were left out too long in the spring, causing the grass to ferment and die, Rose says.Then there was the cost of the mats, which Rose says were built to be put down and picked up just once. Repeated deployment ultimately destroyed the mats.Vail Resorts officials have said there’s new technology available to replace the old mats and protect the grass, but Rose says he isn’t aware of any new systems.The last time cars were parked on the fields in any significant numbers was during the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. Since then, parking has been limited to the Ford Park lots.Last ski season, in order to prevent day skiers from filling those lots and forcing locals onto South Frontage Road or into the structures, the town implemented the $50 Pink Pass for locals only, which pushed more day skiers onto the frontage road. That program will be back next season, Rose says.
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