Project begins to replace the old Solar Vail apartments with 65 new units | VailDaily.com

Project begins to replace the old Solar Vail apartments with 65 new units

VAIL — A long list of Sonnenalp Hotel employees have lived in the 24-unit Solar Vail apartments. A couple of those former residents were on hand to say goodbye to the old structure on Monday, July 30.

A small ceremony kicked off the old building's demolition. The old building will be replaced by a new, 65-unit structure.

"We're very happy to have reached this point," Sonnenalp owner Johannes Faessler said, thanking the hotel's public and private partners.

That cooperation includes a lot of help from the town of Vail. As part of the town's approval of the new apartments — located just east of Red Sandstone Elementary School — the town agreed to pay just more than $4.2 million to purchase 65 deed restrictions. That's about 20 percent of the total project budget. Those restrictions will keep the apartments in the town's long-term rental pool and will give preference to people who work in town.

As part of its town approval, Sonnenalp Properties also agreed to deed-restrict more than 20 other rental units around town.

Most of those deed-restricted apartments will be reserved for Sonnenalp employees.

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But Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet, who attended the Monday ceremony, said the addition of new units means those employees won't be looking for housing elsewhere in the town or the valley.

The 24 Solar Vail units won't be available during construction. But Sebastian Faessler, Johannes Faessler's son and a member of the family business, said Solar Vail has mostly been used by seasonal employees. Those employees will find housing at other company-owned units in East Vail, West Vail or elsewhere in the valley, Sebastian Faessler said.

The Sonnenalp community

In addition to a handful of long-term residents, Solar Vail has served as short-term housing for a number of hotel employees.

Patricia McNamara, the hotel's longtime director of sales and marketing, lived at Solar for a summer in 1986, the year the Sonnenalp bought the then-10-year-old apartments.

"It was great — you could walk to work," McNamara said.

Stefan Schmid, now the hotel's general manager, lived at Solar Vail when he came to the valley in the early 1990s. Schmid lived at the apartments for a winter and a summer. He, too, has fond memories of the place.

"You'd work hard, then play hard," Schmid said, adding that Solar Vail has long been part of the hotel's community of employees.

Johannes Faessler said the current plan has been 11 years in the making. A plan to replace Solar Vail was proposed and approved in 2007, he said. But before work could start, the national economy went into a steep decline.

Between the economy and lining up partners, Faessler called the new Solar Vail an "extraordinarily difficult" project to bring to life.

Over the years, project architect Henry Pratt kept refining the plan. During his remarks, Johannes Faessler thanked Pratt for his work. Pratt replied he's just happy that Faessler kept calling.

It's a big deal

Aside from the town's investment in the project, private funding was obtained through Alpine Bank.

Michael Brown, the bank's president for this region, said the firm is "very happy" to be part of the project.

"This is a big deal," Brown said. "It's affordable housing, and it's keeping folks in the town of Vail."

RA Nelson is the general contractor on the new Solar Vail project. Company vice president Mike Cuthbertson is the project manager for the apartments. Cuthbertson was also the project manager on the Chamonix townhomes, a 32-unit, for-sale project financed by the town.

Acknowledging that there's still a lot to be done across the valley, Cuthbertson said 65 new units "goes a long way" toward addressing the area's need for workforce housing.

Just before people involved in the project took ceremonial sledgehammer swings at the old building, Faessler said he hopes the new Solar Vail apartments can serve as an example of how businesses and the town's government can work together.

The goal, he said, is to "make Vail a great place for its workforce."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2930.

Four facts

24: Units at the existing Solar Vail apartments.

65: Units will replace the existing apartments.

1976: The year the one-bedroom apartments were built.

1986: The year Sonnenalp Properties purchased Solar Vail.

Source: Sonnenalp Properties