Is Vail moving too quickly on land deal?
VAIL, Colorado – For Vail, this deal seems to be moving quickly.
In May, news broke that town officials were in talks with a partnership consisting of Vail Valley Medical Center, the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute to sell a piece of town-owned land for a new medical office building to be used by the partners. After several months of planning and studies, the Vail Town Council on Tuesday approved the first part of that deal, a sales contract for roughly a half-acre of town property. That deal is expected to close in March of next year.
For those who have seen town officials take years to make decisions on various projects, that seems fast.
Rob LeVine, general manager of The Antlers Lodge, has watched town government for much of his adult life and served on the Town Council in the early 1990s. LeVine said the current pace is “ambitious.” But, he said, it’s still relatively early in the process.
“I’d put it at 50-50, at best, that it stays on this pace,” LeVine said, adding that in his office he recently found initial plans for a Lionshead gondola – plans that had a 1993 date. It took years for those plans to become reality.
Then there’s the matter of Vail’s approved-debated-then-shelved conference center. Voters approved a lodging tax to build the center in 2002. Facing skyrocketing construction costs, town voters killed the lodging tax in 2005. Voters just last year approved a plan to spend the money collected in the tax’s first three years.
While LeVine believes work on the medical office building won’t start a moment before the best-case scenarios now being floated, current council member Greg Moffet said he thinks the town will move more quickly on this project.
There are private-sector partners involved in this deal, Moffet said, and those partners have their own money involved. Beyond that, this council includes several people who own businesses and understand the need to get work done in a timely way.
Still, Moffet said, he believes the town is moving “deliberately” in making the deal happen.
But Jim Lamont, director of the Vail Homeowners Association, said he believes the town is moving too quickly on the deal.
“There’s a lot of questions,” Lamont said. “People need time to digest what’s happening.”
One of the biggest questions has been the sale price of the land. While $5 million for a half-acre would seem outlandish in most places, in Vail, some wonder whether the price is akin to a giveaway, despite a town appraisal that determined the value of the land was appropriate for the intended use and subsequent benefits to the town.
And, while the benefits to the town have been highly touted – keeping medical services in town and allowing growth for a profitable enterprise in the Steadman Clinic – at least one critic wonders if those promised benefits aren’t overblown.
Valley resident Don Cohen, former head of the Economic Council of Eagle County, said he believes the market for the Steadman Clinic’s services has plateaued.
“I think we’re looking at the past and trying to invent the future,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said he thinks the Vail Valley Medical Center is overestimating its potential growth.
“They have tremendous competition” from Glenwood Springs and even Denver, Cohen said.
Lamont said despite his reservations, he’s come to believe that the medical office building is a worthwhile project. Solaris developer Peter Knobel, who has criticized the land’s sale price, said he, too, thinks the project will have its desired effect.
And, despite questions about the land’s sale price or the speed of the deal, it’s the economic-development element of the deal that is driving its progress.
“This is an acknowledgment we’re trying to be something besides a ski town,” Moffet said.
And, while he said too much delay could end up killing that project, Moffet also said he expects some hard questions as the deal moves along.
Moffet said the council isn’t yet done with its homework on the project.
“Now that we’ve got the first phase done, we’re now in the bare-knuckle phase,” he said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.