Just call me "Stan’
Stanley Zemler began work as Vail’s town manager last week, replacing Bob McClaurin, who left in April after nearly a decade at the helm of North America’s No. 1 ski town.
“It’s an honor. I’m excited to to be here,” says Zemler, who prefers that people call him “Stan.”
Best of 164
Zemler, 54, was selected this summer by Vail’s leaders after a lengthy hiring process in which a list of 164 applicants was whittled down to five finalists. Calls to a dozen or so people who worked with Zemler in Boulder ultimately led to his selection.
Vail’s mayor, Ludwig Kurz, said the UC-Boulder graduate and former adjunct professor was chosen for his reputation for “getting disparate and differing groups together and moving in the same direction.” Zemler, who began his career with the Environmental Protection Agency, also has been the president and chief executive officer of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce since 1997. Before that, he was Boulder’s deputy city manager, spending three months as acting city manager.
Zemler’s “eclectic background” also includes heading Boulder’s Urban Renewal Authority and Office of Environmental Affairs. He says believes he’s uniquely qualified to guide Vail into the 21st century.
“There’s a summary of what they were looking for, and I fit the bill,” says Zemler with more than a bit of optimism. “The glass is way past full for Vail. A lot of communities are still trying to figure out what happened after 9/11 and all, but Vail’s moving forward.”
A long-time visitor to Vail, Zemler is husband to Luann Waldrop, a teacher, and father to their three daughters: Emily, 20; and 16-year-old twins Lindsey and Stephanie. A recovering “basketball junkie,” Zemler is an avid outdoorsman, too, saying he loves hiking, mountain-biking, fly-fishing, playing softball and, of course, skiing.
“I’m an outdoor person. I love being outside,” says Zemler. “I’m excited to be at Vail’s doorstep. The hiking here is beyond imagination. It’s skiing powder I’ll have to learn about.”
Skiing powder, Zemler admits, is just one of many “challenges” he faces in Vail, which – despite its ranking as North America’s top ski resort by the readers of SKI magazine – has been in an economic doldrums for a decade or longer. Major factors include a long decline in sales-tax revenues, an alarming rise in the number of empty storefronts and a steady migration by local residents to cheaper, more family-oriented communities downvalley.
“But it’s exciting there are challenges. That’s better than nothing going on at all,” says Zemler, referring to the city of Boulder, which grew way too fast, perhaps, before imploding. “I just came from a community that’s stuck.”
A man of the chamber
Of course, Zemler’s six years as president and chief executive officer of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce obviously influenced his selection as manager of Vail, where infighting among merchants have led to the business community and local chamber being less from fully united.
“The chamber thing is one of those challenges,” says Zemler, whose first week on the job in Vail included meetings with members of the business community. “We’ll work with everybody. We’ve already got a dialogue going on. They’re interested in forming a business improvement district, and I’ve put them in touch with people in Boulder who’ve done that.”
Zemler’s style is based on creating dialogue as part of running an “open” government.
“I’m very big on inclusive government and giving people a chance to have a seat at the table,” Zemler said in August when he was hired.
Now, every other Tuesday, Zemler will be seated alongside Vail Town Council members as they preside over regular meetings long known for their lengthy and sometimes intense public input sessions.
“People want to be involved in decisions, but ultimately you do have to move forward,” says Zemler. “In the end, everybody can’t have their way, but they need to have a say. Boulder’s gone way too far in that regard.
Managing a company town
Lessons learned in the diverse Front Range city of Boulder help Zemler put things into perspective as he becomes more familiar with the smaller mountain community of Vail. The similarities are striking, after all, he says, pointing out that while Vail may be dominated by a ski company, Boulder is dominated by the University of Colorado. Like Vail with skiers, Boulder’s leaders must constantly work with the school’s administration to find ways to capitalize on “24,000 walking wallets” coming to study and live in the community every year.
Nevertheless, managing a world-class ski town literally named after the company that built it out of nothing but sheep ranches does present “another one of those challenges,” Zemler says.
“Sure, (Vail Resorts) runs the ski area, they own a lot of property and they’re very big in the equation,” he says. “But I’ve not bought into they run the town.”
Even so, Zemler says, he’d really like to understand the economic dichotomy between Vail the town and Vail the ski resort.
“They had their best year ever, but the town didn’t,” he says. “I want to understand why.”
– For the past six years, Stanley Zemler served as president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, supervising a 20-person staff and a $2 million budget.
– Zemler’s government experience includes serving as the acting city manager for Boulder for three months in 1997 and five years as Boulder’s deputy city manager.
– Zemler’s experience on housing issues includes serving from 1995 until 1997 as the executive director for the Boulder Urban Renewal Authority. One of the projects during his tenure was redeveloping the Crossroads Mall.
– From 1985 until 1992, Zemler was the director of the Office of Environmental Affairs for Policy and Program Development. Before that, he served as adjunct professor at the University of Colorado’s College of Environmental Design.
– Zemler earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government.