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On the bubble

Kaye Ferry

I am totally confused. At the Sept. 16 Vail Town Council meeting, there was a very long discussion on the future of the ice bubble, the seasonal indoor hockey structure at the Vail Golf Course these past few winters.

Now, we all know the clamor when it was put up. Lawsuits were filed. Letters flooded the editor. The anticipated travesty that was about out be perpetrated on the neighborhood was heralded for all to witness.

Well, it seems as though what came to pass was a lot less horrific than those in opposition anticipated. No speeding cars disturbing an otherwise undisturbed area. No loud, noisy crowds. The facility was unobtrusive in its low-slung structure by virtue of its “whiteness” and it blended into the golf course snow.

Things settled down and once again, the town’s planning commission agreed to extend the permit with little fanfare.

So what’s the fuss now? Well it seems as though not enough usage was recorded and revenues didn’t justify the cost. During one of their regular sit downs in April with the Vail Town Council, the Vail Recreation District announced that they would not pay for the set-up and tear-down costs anymore because they couldn’t justify the expense.

So in marched the Vail Junior Hockey Association parents. They would try to save the day by raising the money to cover those expenses as long as the VRD would continue to run it. All seemed well and at least a philosophical agreement was reached.

Unfortunately, reality set in and the funds didn’t materialize. So that’s the background. Now for the confusion.

The hockey association parents arrived to deliver the bad news. But the good news was they had an alternate plan – one that I assume they were happy with since it was theirs. So as not to present any interpretations, I’m going the quote directly what they very sanely suggested: “It is the recommendation of the VJHA that the Vail ice bubble either be installed in the Avon to Edwards area as a year-round sports facility (owned by the town of Vail) or sold to an interested organization in Avon-Edwards. A practice facility in the mid-valley would allow the VJHA to grow our numbers and be a feeder system for Dobson.”

Further: “VJHA suggests the town sell the bubble* as quickly as possible. In the opinion of VJHA, the bubble is too expensive and too hard to continuously take down year after year at the golf course.”

They went on to explain that things have changed since the advent of the bubble. At that time there were no plans for the Eagle ice rink, which is now expected to draw skaters away from the Vail programs. Dobson was on the brink of disaster, but that’s been fixed. And there was a Midget AAA program that no longer exists. This all added up at the time to the need for more ice. Now as those things have changed, as has the need, or lack of it.

So it appeared that reasonable parents had come to a logical conclusion on a topic that affected their own children. It’s too expensive as it’s been operated. The needs have changed. A more western site would serve the program in a better way. Wow! It was like a miracle of logical and economically responsible thoughts had merged in the form of the hockey association and the Vail Recreation District.

But you guessed it. Our seven fearless leaders stepped in. “You can’t move these programs out of Vail.” Never mind that more than half of the participants don’t live in Vail. “It doesn’t matter what it costs, we have to keep it here.” What happened to the “return on investment” that we keep hearing about, support for the bubble most adamantly and ironically coming from the councilman who screams it the loudest? How does an expense of over $220,000 (this year’s estimate: $190,000 set-up/tear-down plus $30,000 operations) sound against last year’s revenue of $48,000 (which is expected to go down now that the Eagle rink is up and running)? The Vail Recreation District was chastised for not managing the facility properly. There were threats that the town would take control back.

Oh, it was a sight to behold. And in the end, insanity prevailed. The lone voice of reason was Dick Cleveland. He lost the vote 6-1. What a shame. The parents of the children in the program found a solution that was acceptable to them and economically responsible, but the Town Council wouldn’t hear of it. We have to keep those folks driving in to Vail. They’re going to spend those big bucks in our stores and restaurants while their kids skate round and round.

Personally, I was in favor of the bubble when there was a proven need for ice time and when it made economic sense. Revenues in 2001-02 were $75,000 (443 hours). In 2002-03 they decreased to $48,000 (182 hours). Projections for 2003-04 are $25,000 (40 hours). And don’t correct my math; I’m reporting what was said.

As I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, if they keep spending our money like this, we’ll always be broke. Remember, they’ll be asking for a property tax increase to pay these unnecessary bills. It’s definitely a time for change. Unless, of course, this all makes sense to you.

The bubble cost the town $750,000. If it’s sold now, some of that can be re-couped. If we wait much longer, it’ll be a complete write off.

BY THE WAY: Fearful of losing their jobs, many TOV employees are quiet about the mayor’s decision to stay on. It seems as though they’re not happy about the unnecessary expenditure since pay raises were minimal this year. The words I was told were “they sure don’t practice what they preach.”

AMAZING: Oh, it was an interesting Sept. 16 Town Council meeting. One of our illustrious leaders urged contacting a variety of elected officials about the noise on I-70. She went so far as to say, “Contact the president – that’s if you think he can read.” Politics aside, is that really appropriate at a public meeting representing the town of Vail?

Do your part, call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@ci.vail.co.us. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-search:ferry

Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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