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New garage may add hundreds of jobs

VAIL ” Ghiqui Hoffmann said she’s fortunate to have employees that she can count on. Others in Vail haven’t been so lucky, especially this year, she said.

“Trying to find anybody to work, someone to walk in the door and punch the time clock, has been hellacious for people this year,” said Hoffmann, who owns the Laughing Monkey in Vail Village. “Let alone quality. It’s just getting a body in.”

Help-wanted signs still hang in many Vail stores. Vail’s “renaissance” is creating new buildings and new jobs, but, meanwhile, the price of housing has forced workers to live farther and farther from Vail.

So how could this town of 4,000 year-round residents handle the 726 jobs that would be created by the rebuilt Lionshead parking structure?

Only two businesses in town ” Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Medical Center ” employ more people.

Hoffmann said the Lionshead proposal wouldn’t do enough to help the town with two issues that are central to attracting employees: housing and parking.

“I don’t think it’s helping as much as it could,” she said.

The Texas developer who wants to rebuild the garage touts its plan to redevelop the Timber Ridge affordable housing complex.

They plan to house 1,248 workers in two-bedroom apartments and build 176 affordable, for-sale homes there. There are 600 beds there now.

“Somebody had to aggressively attack this employee housing issue and bring some thinkers to the table on this issue,” said Mark Masinter, part of the development group. “And that’s what I’ve done.”

The developer would probably have to house at least a couple of hundred of its employees at Timber Ridge under Vail’s new housing rules. The rest of the 726 employees would likely live throughout Eagle County, Masinter said.

The town is trying to pass new rules that would require developers to build more employee housing. But the town aims to house only 30 percent of Vail’s workers.

Greg Moffet, a Vail councilman, said the Lionshead project would help Vail’s housing situation, not hurt it.

“In the case of this particular employer, they are going to do more than compensate for the incremental load their employees are putting on the town,” he said.

Not only would the developer rebuild Timber Ridge, it would also provide lots of public parking and more sales tax for the town, Moffet said.

Sales tax is the top moneymaker for the town of Vail.

The hotels proposed with the project ” a four-star W Hotel and a five-star St. Regis Hotel ” would bring more shoppers to Vail stores, Moffet said.

And more jobs in Vail will force employers to offer their employees better compensation, Moffet said.

“The best employees are going to migrate to the best jobs,” he said.

The town is now negotiating with Open Hospitality Group/Hillwood Capital to rebuild the garage into condos, timeshares, hotels, a conference center, stores and restaurants. The project would be worth $600 million.

The town would get about $81.9 million in public benefits from the project, according to one study. But it would essentially be giving away a piece of land that’s been appraised at $75 million for this particular use.

Stephen Connolly, a Vail resident, said he thinks town businesses need to increase their recruitment efforts, especially in light of the new jobs that could be created in Lionshead.

“It’s a red flag to say, ‘Wake up and go figure this out,'” he said.

While larger businesses like Vail Resorts and the town of Vail already recruit around the world, smaller businesses might have trouble achieving that kind of reach, he said.

A local chamber of commerce could help recruit employees for smaller businesses, or simply increase awareness that Vail is a good place for young people to work for a season, he said.

But some still aren’t sure the Lionshead redevelopment would be necessary. Kevin Foley, a Vail councilman, voted against proceeding with the project, saying he didn’t know how Vail would find the workers needed to run it.

“I really think that we should take a little breather once everything else already approved is done and see if the demand is there for these hotels, this retail and everything else,” Foley said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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