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Re-invention, revitalization ready for Lionshead

Matt Zalaznick
Special to the Daily\Vail ResortsView from "North Street" looking south over Vail Resorts' proposed Lionshead Core redevelopment towards the ski mountain.
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A miniature golf course in Lionshead was turned down for a long-term lease.

Why? Because the local ski company was preparing massive renovations for the aging mountainside village and its hulking buildings.

That was 1987, and since then the mini-golf course has been spruced up and moved from out of the shadows of one of those buildings to a sunny patch of land along Gore Creek. Meanwhile, the village has only gotten older.



Vail Resorts now has given official impetus to a long-lingering plan to re-invent Lionshead. The project, which the company’s chief calls the “most significant” it has ever undertaken, includes two new hotels, tearing down older buildings and expanding the area’s narrow passageways into a grand plaza with an ice-skating rink and wide, sunny views of Vail Mountain.

“I wish they’d hurry up and get it done,” says Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers at Vail lodge and condominium complex in Lionshead, who owned the miniature golf course in 1987. “Having just finished our renovations and talking to guests coming to Vail and coming to the Antlers, I can’t overemphasize the importance of “new.'” LeVine says. “People want new things.”



Pace picks up

Vail Resorts had been more extensively discussing its concepts for Lionshead during the past year with town officials, business owners and residents. The company has now submitted its “grand plan” to town planners.

“The Lionshead revitalization project has been one of the highest priorities for our company for a number of years,” says Adam Aron, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts.



Submitting official blueprints means the multi-phased redevelopment project will now enter a potentially lengthy review process that should result in construction beginning within the next few years. The brunt of the work is expected to take place in 2005 and 2006.

“The Lionshead redevelopment is the most significant redevelopment project ever undertaken by Vail Resorts,” Aron says. “We have gone to great lengths to address the needs of guests and the community.”

If Vail Resorts fulfills its vision, Lionshead will look drastically different by the end of the decade.

“It’s yet another milestone for Vail,” says Mayor Ludwig Kurz. “I believe this is the kind of momentum that will help direct our energy toward the ambitious pursuits we are known for.

The Lionshead project is being planned alongside renovations at the base of the Vista Bahn Express chairlift in Vail Village. The latter plan, known as the “Front Door” project, is already being reviewed by the town’s planners.

“We are dedicated to the revitalization of Vail as we have shown with the ongoing efforts on the Front Door project and committing $4.3 million toward resolving Vail’s parking issues,” Aron says.

Hotels and homes

During the more modest, early phases of the plan, the tennis courts along Forest Road would be replaced by four or five single-family homes with views of the slopes and the Gore Range. Another row of single-family homes would be built along Gore Creek, behind the Marriott Mountain Resort hotel.

The most dramatic work, set for 2005 and 2006, would be done in the core of Lionshead. The monolithic and aging “gondola building” – which houses Vail Resorts’ offices, a nightclub, a ski shop and ticket offices – will be torn down, along with the Sunbird lodge, and replaced with a five-star RockResorts hotel complex designed more in the style of Beaver Creek.

The narrow, darkened stairway and passage skiers and snowboarders walk to the gondola would become an bright, open plaza with an ice rink and expansive views of the slopes. That part of the plan has been particularly popular with local officials and surrounding residents.

“I’m pleased to see that the plans have been revised with enlarged public spaces and view corridors to address some of the concerns expressed previously by the community,” Kurz says.

The last phase would be to construct a new hotel on the parking lot next to the Marriott.

Aron says the project, which should move rapidly now that it has been submitted to the town, should spark further revitalization in the area.

“We acknowledge that what we do on these sites will become a catalyst for other redevelopment projects in Lionshead,” Aron says. “Once completed, we believe this revitalization will take the guest experience to new heights and reinforce Vail’s image as a leader and innovator in the resort industry.”

Vail Community Development Director Russ Forrest, whose agency will oversee the project, says the “grand plan” will soon be shown to the town’s various planning and design boards, and then each phase will be taken separately through the review process.

Some opposition

While the plan appears to have wide support among the public, some property owners say they are worried about some of the outlying projects – particularly plans to build a transportation hub and housing in a six-story building on the North Day Lot at the end of the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 70.

Geoffrey Wright, general manager of Landmark building, adjacent to the parking lot, says owners of condominiums in the building have had mixed reactions to the coming redevelopment.

“As far as core site, we’re excited about the changes – the open ice rink and the plaza are nice additions,” Wright says. “As far the North Day Lot, we’re concerned with some of the negative impacts on the surrounding properties.”

Should housing be built, Wright says, Landmark owners are worried about increased noise, as well as security and access problems.

Essence of “new’

LeVine, an enthusiastic supporter, says he was hopeful small details, such as easy and convenient pedestrian paths from hotels to the mountain, would be worked out by the town and the ski company.

“Overall, it will be great what they’re proposing to do,” LeVine says. “It will help property values throughout Lionshead and give retailers and merchants a much better chance of success.”

The project should help Vail regain the competitive edge some say it has lost in recent years to other ski towns that have re-invented and re-developed themselves, LeVine says.

“Just the very essence of being “new’ creates a whole plethora of vibrancy and excitement,” LeVine says. “People will come to Vail instead of Breckenridge, Whistler or the other places where they’ve re-developed.”

Vail Resorts’ Lionshead redevelopment plan:

– CORE SITE:

– Demolition of the Old Gondola building and Sunbird Lodge

– A new, five-star, 81-room RockResorts hotel

– 79 condominiums

– 22,000 square of retail and restaurant space

– Public ice-rink

– New Gore Creek skier bridge

– WEST DAY LOT

– A new, 90-bed hotel

– 112 condominiums

– 12 single-family homes along Gore Creek

– NORTH DAY LOT

A new, six-story building would include:

– Town of Vail transit center

– 36 employee apartments (144 beds)

– 16,243 square feet of office space

– TENNIS COURT SITE on Forest Road

Demolition:

– Tennis courts removed

New projects

– Four residential lots, 20,000-25,000 square feet each

– A private road

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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