How open is Vail’s open space? |

How open is Vail’s open space?

A second round of Ford Park projects would add education and office space for the Betty Fordm Alpine Gardens, a social courtyard for the Amphitheater, and improvements to Betty Ford Way.

VAIL – Who gets to build on some of Vail’s most coveted open space, and what gets built, will consume some of the town council’s attention Tuesday.

It seems innocuous enough. The Vail town council wants to take a look at Ford Park projects being built now, and try to get a fix on a second round proposed for the near future.

“Based on some of the work being done in phase 1, the council was asking whether we are beginning to over develop and over plan the improvements in Ford Park,” said George Ruther, Vail’s community development director.

Vail had more than $9 million set aside to build a conference center. When it became clear that a conference was not in the town’s immediate future, Vail voters reallocated some of that money to the park. Those improvements would come in two phases.

The first phase includes realigning the athletic fields, new restroom/concession facilities, plus re-grading of the Ford Amphitheater lawn seating, new restrooms at the venue’s east entry, and improve the nature trail along Gore Creek.

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Some of the conference center money is funding most of it. The Amphitheater improvements are being funded by private contributions raised by the Vail Valley Foundation, which owns and operates the amphitheater.

The second phase would be an education center/office building the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, widening Betty Ford Way, and adding a social courtyard. That social would resemble one of those shade structures you might find outside a local restaurant. At its highest point it would be 35 feet, supported by a single pole in the middle.

“The social courtyard is proposed to provide some protection from the weather for people attending Amphitheater events,” Ruther said. “A location for gatherings prior to and during intermission during concerts and events.”

The Amphitheater hosts more than 60 events each year.

Earlier this month, the town council decided to tap the brakes a little and asked to take a stroll about the grounds, to put some eyeballs on the Ford park projects.

They’ll take their tour Tuesday afternoon during a work session, looking at progress on the first phase and considering the second phase. They’ll come back Tuesday evening to talk about how, or if, they might want to move forward.

“The Ford Park Master Plan in 1985 created some development expectations for Ford Park,” Ruther said.

Between 1985 and 1997, most of those plans have been implemented by Ford park’s four users: the town of Vail, the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, the Vail Recreation District and the Vail Valley Foundation. In 1997 the management plan was again amended, and in Nov. 2011, Vail voters said that some of the conference center money could be spent on Ford Park.

Diana Donovan spent much of her adult life on Vail boards – the planning and environmental commission and the town council. She said she helped create most of Vail’s master plans, including the one for Ford Park.

Se said she loves the Alpine Garden, but its offices don’t need to be in Ford Park.

“It’s a year-round office and education building on open space land,” Donovan said. “That’s not why the open space money was spent.”

Ford Park was approved and built when then Vail town manager Terry Minger was aghast that sewer pipes and building materials were about to be buried for yet another condo complex, right where the athletic fields are now.

Minger and the town council at the time, which included Josef Staufer and John Donovan, decided Vail would not be solid houses from Vail Pass to Dowd Junction.

Vail’s voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to buy open space. That’s where Vail got the $3.2 million it needed to buy the 39-acre Ford Park property.

In the 1980s, the Vail town council approved a 1 percent Real Estate Transfer Tax. In the 1990s the Vail town council decided to reimburse the town from the RETT funds.

“Taxpayers bought this land twice with open space tax money,” Donovan said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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