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Locals will save Vail’s soul

Tamara Miller
Vail CO, Colorado

Does Vail really need locals? Does Vail really need a community?

Do tourists really care if the person taking their lunch order lives in Vail or commutes in from Leadville? Will the second-home owner’s market suffer if the maids and gardeners actually live in Avon?

Vail needs workers, that’s for certain. But does Vail really need schools, child-care centers, bowling alleys and playgrounds?

This is the debate that faces Vail and has faced Vail for years. Everything, from the Crossroads redevelopment to the Lionshead garage, boils down to these questions. And depending on your answer, you either think Vail is heading in a good direction, or a completely misguided one.

The answer is no if you ask the droves of realtors and developers who oppose Vail’s Town Council doing anything ” even securing housing for a measly 30 percent of the town’s workers. It’s clear that profits prevail with this group. And why shouldn’t they? In most parts of the country people build homes to make money and no one chides them for it.

Vail is home to the country’s largest ski resort ” a for-profit business, and a ritzy one at that ” not the country’s largest nonprofit.

But if the answer is yes, then you can forget the arguments about affordable housing not being the government’s business. Next time you think any community in this county can rely on private developers alone to get affordable housing, have a talk with Evelyn Pinney. Her admirable affordable housing project planned for west Edwards is looking more like a pro bono adventure, in part thanks to a local housing market that rewards only builders of massive custom homes or massive subdivisions.

It’s also in part thanks to the county’s rigid affordable housing guidelines, which seem to be enforced more on principle than a real desire to bring more affordable housing here.

But plenty of people seem to think Vail should have a community.

Councilman Mark Gordon won his seat on the idea that saving Vail’s community is a priority. It’s obvious there are plenty of Vail locals who agree with him.

Vail’s community advocates aren’t naive about their arguments, either, though they may be somewhat motivated by self-preservation. It just makes good business sense to keep workers in town, the argument goes. But there’s some debate about what kind of affordable housing Vail needs: rentals and affordable housing up for purchase. And the answer lies in who Vail thinks Vail needs.

Vail certainly needs lift operators, ticket scanners, waiters and waitresses who will work for lowly wages in dead-end jobs and no benefits save for a ski pass. Assuring these workers a place to live near the slopes is part of the recruitment package, even if it is just the top bunk in a three-bedroom condo that sleeps 12.

Keeping transient, seasonal workers in town is vital to Vail’s economy, but it doesn’t make Vail a community.

Vail needs permanence to be a community, permanence in the form of professionals, young couples and families, who generally have higher living standards than seasonal workers but still lack the income to afford them in Vail. And with them, they take Vail’s community.

There are some who have made it work, sure. But many of the locals who fall into this group have moved downvalley or out of the area all together.

The term Vailization that those who scoff at Vail’s success has as much to do with this phenomenon as it does the Village’s architecture.

Maybe Vail doesn’t think it needs locals. Or more, maybe it isn’t in Vail’s best interest to spend taxpayer dollars and the town’s regulatory authority to make sure Vail really is a town AND a resort.

But if Vail is going to be a town and resort, now, and in the future, much more needs to be done to keep kids, moms and dads, young professionals and middle-aged Rotary members in town, too.

Those youthful seasonal workers keep Vail vibrant and relevant by adding life to the bars, while more permanent residents add soul to a town that is regularly accused of selling its soul for profit.

The reasons for keeping locals in Vail can’t necessarily be explained in dollar signs and marketing terms. But in most real towns, there’s no need to explain why community is important and why it should exist.

The reasons for keeping locals in town are mostly sentimental and emotional. But sentiment and emotion ” not revenues and profit share ” are what make people fall in love Vail and stay here, despite the expense.

It’s also what keeps tourists coming to Vail, instead of going somewhere else.

Opinion/Projects Editor Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.


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