Parking congestion in the crosshairs
A more centrally located conference center that would create twice as much parking as originally proposed is the latest idea for building the voter-approved facility some believe will invigorate Vail’s economy in the summer and shoulder seasons.
The concept, floated by Vail Resorts’ chairman and chief executive officer, Adam Aron, in a column published in Friday’s Vail Daily, puts the $50 million conference center on a piece of land known as the “hub site,” between the Lionshead parking garage and the Dobson Ice Arena.
Under Aron’s plan, Vail Resorts would give the town $4.3 million to put a fourth level on the Lionshead structure and spend $1.2 million building an additional 300 parking spots on the outskirts of Lionshead on what is now the company’s maintenance yard.
That could free up 700 new parking spots for skiers and locals heading into town, as well as employees of both local businesses and the ski company.
“I think there’s definitely a shortage of parking,” says Bonnie McDonald, owner of the Covered Bridge Coffee Shop. “I’ll take more space if we can get some, but hopefully it will be without building something huge and ugly. I don’t think anyone wants Vail to be marred.”
Planners from the town and Vail Resorts have linked easing parking congestion on busy ski weekends with the construction of the conference center for which voters last fall approved increases in sales and lodging taxes to build. The approximately $50 million budget for the conference center includes nearly $8 million to build 350 parking spaces. But those spaces may be stretched thin if the conference center is built where originally intended, on Vail Resorts’ maintenance yard outside of Lionshead. The company has offered to donate the land to the town.
Both the town and the ski company are trying to prevent cars from lining the South Frontage Road in future ski seasons. That’s where the conference center clashes with Vail Resorts’ plans to renovate Lionshead, which will likely result in the loss of a large parking lot west of the Marriott now used by the company’s employees.
And even though parking spaces at the conference center probably wouldn’t be used during the day, Aron said if the facility is built on the maintenance yard, a huge majority of the parking paces would be needed for the company’s employees, leaving no more than 50 spots for skiers and snowboarders on winter days .
“That wouldn’t alleviate the parking problem on the Frontage Road,” says Nicole Hoffman-Ewing, general manager of the Rucksack and the General Store in Vail Village and a member of the town’s Parking Task Force.
But, she adds, parking on the Frontage Road doesn’t necessarily bother skiers and snowboarders visiting Vail.
“They like it because it’s free,” she says.
Visitors who come by car also don’t spend as much money in Vail, she says.
“The customers who park on the Frontage Road come to ski. They’re not coming in the stores to shop – one reason is they’re carrying their skis and boots.
“They’re not the people spending big money in the stores,” she adds. “It’s the destination skiers in the hotels.”
Building the conference center on the maintenance yard – also known as the “Holy Cross site” – would solve a lot more problems for the ski company than for the town, says outspoken Vail businesswoman Kaye Ferry, who owns The Grind on Bridge Street.
“It doesn’t solve any problems,” Ferry says. “We’d be building the parking for them that they would have to build because of their Lionshead redevelopment.”
The town also would be unwise to spend millions of dollars on parking that won’t be available year-round, Ferry says.
“I think it would be very short-sighted to consider building a facility that large without having access to that parking all year,” Ferry says.
A parking squeeze could be avoided altogether, however, Aron wrote, if the conference center were built in Lionshead and the garage expanded.
“Vail Resorts will still be spending $5.5 million, but instead of 350 new parking spaces being built, 700 new parking spaces will be built,” Aron said.
Construction costs may be higher at the Hub Site, but Tap Room co-owner Steve Kaufman says the extra expense is worth it, though he doesn’t believe parking is as big a crisis as others in town think it is.
“Parking on the Frontage Road doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to see it because it means town’s busy,” says Kaufman.
Vail’s economy is based on skiers, snowboarders and other visitors passing shops and restaurants as they walk from parking garages to the ski slopes, Kaufman says. Building the conference center and expanding parking near the ice rink and garage – rather than on the outskirts of Lionshead – would bolster this synergy,
“This way, you’re solving everybody’s issues,” Kaufman says. “Now you’re parking people in town and you’re driving traffic into Lionshead. It makes all the sense in the world.”
Ferry also says she thinks the hub site is a better spot for the conference center.
“I have always believed the hub site to be a better site than the Holy Cross site,” Ferry says. “It’s more accessible and it has more options for rest of the community.”
Were the conference center built at the hub site, Vail Resorts should be forced to build more than 350 spots on the maintenance yard, Ferry says.
“I would tell them to build a 1,000-space structure,” she says,
Ferry has argued, however, that voters didn’t exactly know what they were voting for last fall when they approved its construction. Some voters weren’t clear on how the town and the ski company would work together to build the conference center, she says.
“If I we’re given a choice, I would say the ideal scenario would be go to back to the voters and get this thing ironed out,” Ferry says.
In his column, Aron disputed any deception.
“Vail Resorts is prepared to do now exactly and precisely what we said we would do, both verbally and in writing, prior to the election,” Aron said. “In the haze of smoke the detractors are trying to create, it is voiced that the amount of land that Vail Resorts will be donating is changing to the town’s detriment. Nonsense.”
Hoffman-Ewing says she’s glad to see the ski company trying to help solve the town’s parking problems.
“I’m happy to see Vail Resorts stepping up to the plate,” she says.
But Kaufman says the very fact Aron had to write a column in the paper shows the distrust simmering in the town.
“It’s a shame that because of all the finger-pointing going on, the CEO of Vail Resorts needs to write a letter,” Kaufman says. “It’s a good letter, but it shows you how sad the state of affairs is in this town.”
Parking, however, is not a silver bullet for Vail’s economy, Kaufman says.
“I don’t understand how parking is a cure-all to anything. Seven hundred more parking spots doesn’t mean I have more biz in April, May, June, July or August. It doesn’t change a single thing.”
Conference center conundrum
The Vail Town Council is scheduled Tuesday to discuss whether to build the proposed conference center on Vail Resorts’ maintenance yard on the South Frontage Road just west of Lionshead, or in Lionshead itself, at a location commonly known as the “hub site” between the parking garage and the Dobson Ice Arena. The discussion is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers at Town Hall.
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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