Park parking a no-go |

Park parking a no-go

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Skiers park along the South Frontage Road during the busy holiday weekend.

A fledgling effort to turn a softball field into a parking lot for skiers and snowboarders this winter has met its demise.

The town of Vail has pulled out of a deal that would have put overflow parking on top of the eastern softball field at Ford Park, about a mile east of the Vail parking garage.

“The costs were going out of sight and the taxpayers were going to be on the hook,” said Town Councilman Dick Cleveland, a member of a task force charged with finding solutions to the town’s winter parking woes. “There were just too many unknowns for us to commit taxpayers into paying several hundred thousand dollars for a temporary fix.”

“Not getting anywhere’

This week, after considering a deal with the Vail Recreation District that would have used the eastern softball field at Ford Park as a temporary parking lot for as many as 200 cars during the coming ski season, the council voted 6-1 to remove the town’s financial support from the project.

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Mayor Ludwig Kurz, who voted against the measure, said he did so “in principle,” as “we’re not getting anywhere.”

Preliminary plans were to cover the field with road material salvaged from other projects, as well as plywood panels placed strategically to protect sprinkler heads. The vote came after learning of $150,000 to $200,000 – or more – in additional financial risks associated with removing the material, then restoring the softball field next spring. Those risks included the possibility of re-sodding the field completely, full reconstruction of the irrigation system and the loss of revenue from any parking fees collected.

“The requirements listed by the VRD that the field be returned to the way it is now next spring is a huge liability. We’d have to restore the sprinklers, the field itself, and even pay for any events that were lost,” said Councilwoman Diana Donovan. “And if the field didn’t hold up, we’d have to re-sod it.”

The town would retain its offer to operate the temporary facility, however, if the district, which leases the property from the town, and the ski company, which brings skiers and snowboarders to town, could find another way to pay for it all.

“It’s dead’

The district and the ski company, however, say the town’s pull out dooms the entire project.

“I think it’s dead,” said Peter Cook, a member of the district’s board of directors, comparing the scenario to a similar deal struck with the town to erect the temporary ice skating facility, the Vail Ice Dome, for it’s fourth season. “It was going to be a temporary deal, but by the time they started adding up the costs, it looked like another “Bubble’ deal. It would have been a disaster.”

Bill Jensen, chief operating officer for Vail Mountain, agreed the temporary parking solution was “too expensive.” Vail Resorts, he said, had put up $50,000 toward the project, but as the costs escalated the company decided the money would be better spent on permanent solutions.

“We’re not going to participate in this,” said Jensen, another member of the parking task force. “We’ll do what we were going to do with Ford Park in other ways.”

Other scenarios

Other efforts to solve Vail’s parking woes, at least in the short term, include adding 160 new spaces at the West Day Lot – west of the Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa in Lionshead – to the public parking inventory. Ski company employees who used to park there now will park across the Frontage Road at the company’s maintenance yard, which is being retrofitted for that purpose.

Skiers and snowboarders also will be able to park free in various locations throughout town, such as along stretches of the North Frontage Road in West Vail, Red Sandstone Park, Stephens Park and the trail head at the East Vail interchange. Most of those areas are near bus stops.

Last month, too, the Town Council made way for more free parking – and more parking spaces in general – in the parking structures by allowing an hour and a half of free parking in the Vail Village and Lionshead parking garages, as well as free parking in both garages after 3 p.m.

Paid parking, meanwhile, is going to cost more, with regular, hourly parking rates increasing significantly – double in some cases – at the two parking garages. For example, the rate for parking all day – from six to 24 hours – will increase from $13 to $16.

Another scenario being discussed is using the parking lot at the Chateau at Vail – slated for asbestos-abatement procedures and demolition this winter on its way to being redeveloped as a new Four Seasons hotel – for another 200 spaces.

Waldir Prado, who owns the hotel, said he’d consider letting the town use the lot, depending on when demolition can get underway.

“We’re still refining our schedule,” Prado said.

Open space remains open

Whatever additional spaces can be found this winter, Donovan, says she’s happy to see Ford Park remain as a park over the winter, even if it’s covered with snow and used by few people.

“There’s a large contingent of people in town who believe open space is meant to be open space. You don’t use it as a parking lot,” she said, calling the idea of temporary lot at Ford Park a “land grab” by Vail Resorts. “Sure, it’s cheaper to use open space for parking or whatever else arises.”

Donovan said she believes there’s plenty of room to park in town if people would just use common sense.

“What’s the difference between a surface parking lot and parking on the Frontage Road?” she asked. “We have plenty of pavement to park on, we just have to figure out how to use it.”

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