In the throws of "pre-demolition’
If you’ve been wondering why two aging landmark hotels are still standing months after they reportedly were to be demolished, you’re not alone.In May, saying it would signal “a new era for the village,” Waldir Prado, owner of the Vail Village Inn, said demolition of the hotel, on the southwest corner of the main roundabout, would begin by summer. He even gave notice to two businesses on the property – Craig’s Market and Club Chelsea – that they should vacate the premises, which they did.Now, with fall colors in full bloom in the mountains, the “VVI” obviously is still standing.”Demolition is still imminent,” says the hotel’s owner, Waldir Prado. “We’re in the final stages of pre-demolition.”Across the street to the west stands the Chateau at Vail, a former Holiday Inn that also is owned by Prado. That structure, along with the Amoco gas station on the southwest corner of the roundabout, also was slated for demolition this summer on its way to becoming a five-star establishment operated by the Four Seasons, an international hotel company.Fact is, both the Vail Village Inn and the Chateau at Vail – two aging structures built in the resort’s early days – are still in separate stages of redevelopment. The former is currently undergoing asbestos abatement, required of many buildings built before 1980 before they can be demolished; and the latter, while it will have to undergo a similar procedure, has not quite emerged from the town’s approval process.”The current plan is to do our asbestos abatement and demolish the Chateau as soon as possible, maybe by the end of fall,” says T.J. Brink, a Denver-based developer who’s agreed to buy the hotel from Prado as soon as the Vail Town Council gives its final approval, expected on Tuesday.Nearly four yearsPrado, a Brazilian-born developer, has completed projects in Dallas and Brazil. He bought the Vail Village Inn, one of the ski resort’s first lodges, years ago with the intention of building a five-star establishment. In 2000, he won approval by the Vail Town Council for what was to be the Vail Plaza, a $110-million, luxury establishment with 238 rooms, convention space, a health club and restaurants.Soon afterward, however, a tangled web of lawsuits ensued over views of Vail Mountain from the adjoining Vail Gateway building. The litigation, which has held up the Vail Plaza ever since, is near its end, Prado says, and he expects to demolish the old building as soon as the asbestos work is completed.”That takes a long time. They say they’ll have it complete by the end of next month,” says Prado. “Then we’ll start demolition right away, probably sometime in December.”Demolishing the old hotel will be done in phases, he adds, starting with the building that used to house Craig’s Market and continuing with the main building on South Frontage Road. He says he expects to apply for a building permit immediately following demolition and removal of the old hotel, meaning that site may be an active one through the winter season. He says he plans to break ground for the Vail Plaza in the spring.Brink, meanwhile, says minor issues with neighbors have been responsible for delaying the Four Seasons project. Owners of condominiums at Nine Vail Road to the south were concerned about parking spaces, he said, and others in the Scorpio complex to the west had issues with blocked views.”It’s a big deal for our homeowners, but it’s apparently not for the town of Vail,” says Richard Kent, president of the Scorpio’s homeowners association, admitting the Gateway vs. VVI affair set a precedent for how view corridors recognized by Vail planners years ago don’t fair well in court today.”Eager for the improvements’George Ruther, a planner with Vail’s Community Development Department, says both projects are good ones and the town’s staff is excited to have two new luxury hotels nearing construction. While 38 conditions remain to be resolved before he can issue a building permit for the Vail Plaza, he says it’s well within the realm of possibility he can issue a building permit by spring. Meanwhile, he doesn’t foresee anything preventing the Four Seasons from winning approval next week.”The town is eager for the improvements,” says Ruther. “Now, really, it’s just a matter of when they happen.”No matter what happens, Vail’s main roundabout looks to become the epicenter for three massive projects for quite some time, with the Vail Plaza and the Four Seasons to the south and the Middle Creek housing project to the north.Hotels a big boostLast month, the Town Council voted unanimously to wait only until their next regular meeting on Tuesday to decide finally whether to approve the Four Seasons project. Councilman Dick Cleveland expressed continued frustration, saying it’s time for the project to live or die.It’s important the project – which includes 118 hotel rooms, 22 time-share units, 18 condominiums and 34 employee-housing units – moves forward as quickly as possible, he said.”We can’t afford to have that kind of thing hold this up any longer,” Cleveland said of relatively minor issues like blocked views that have held up both the Vail Plaza and the Four Seasons, to varying degrees.”We have two businesses there that are gone and two hotels closed down. Getting those hotels back up and running is (vital to Vail’s future),” he said.Cleveland’s point was a big one. Large hotels coming online can drive a town’s economy back from the brink. Just look at Lionshead, where the Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa saw its first full summer of operation in two years after extensive renovations, and the Antlers at Vail had done the same.Just as sales-tax collections were reported to be down 5.5 percent compared to the first half of last year, June sales-tax collections alone this year showed a healthy 12.5 percent gain – driven by a 34 percent jump in lodging.Business in Lionshead, in fact, virtually exploded in June because there were more hotel rooms available, boosting sales-tax collections 45 percent overall. Lodging itself was up 62 percent, while food and beverage sales skyrocketed, up 121 percent.A driving factor for the improved numbers, simply, was more hotel rooms available.