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Reworking Lionshead may go beyond appearance

Geraldine Haldner
Vail Daily/Melinda KruseIts namesake, Lions Head - a rock formation resembling a lion's head - lies roughly six miles northeast of Lionshead, and just like it, Vail's western shopping area has always been a bit of an outsider in Vail. Town leaders are contemplating a name change to make the area a more integral part of the community.
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“It could be just Vail or Vail Village West,” said Vail Town Councilman Rod Slifer, who posed the question of why LionsHead is named after a natural landmark in a neighboring town. Vail’s Lionshead was originally christened with a capital “H’ to prevent tourists from calling it “lion shed.”

Slifer came to Vail in 1962 and served as Vail mayor from 1978 to 1985, said the ski company – at that time, Vail Associates – decided to make Lionshead different by design.

“The powers that be felt it needed its own identity, so they settled on Lionshead. I never liked it,” he said.



Suggestions for a new name poured in from residents of all parts of Vail – few serious – including “West Vail Two, East-West Vail, and East Avon.”

Anything but Lionshead, said Slifer.



“To me Lions Head is in Minturn, not Vail,” he said. “I’ve always thought Lionshead should be a main part of the town of Vail. To me the word Lionshead indicates that it is somewhere else.”

What’s in a name?

While Slifer has better things to do than mount a “Rename Lionshead” campaign, he’s not along in not thinking the name Lionshead is misplaced.



“It never had anything to do with anything here,” said Shawn Boris, who along with her husband Gary has been operating Montauk Seafood Grill, a Lionshead restaurant, since 1988.

Boris, who admits she isn’t too terribly fond of the name, said back in the 1980s some guests would be confused. It apparently overwhelmed their senses to leave Vail Village and take a two minute free bus ride to sit down at Montauk’s in a location named after feline’s cranium.

“It was a bit of a disadvantage in the beginning of our business. There was very little dining in Lionshead, and people would say, “Well, I don’t want to go there,'” said Boris. “I think the quality of our business has since taken care of that.”

Terry Minger, Vail’s second town manager, who oversaw Vail in its municipal childhood, said Vail’s “other” commercial center concept was well-intended but was “never as successful as we thought it would be.”

Minger said the concept was borrowed straight from Europe at a time when Vail sought to accommodate hundreds of condominiums and large hotels and Vail Associates facing down bankruptcy had to leverage land for new investments.

“Everybody wanted to own a piece of Vail, and the notion was that Vail would include two villages that would be different but connected, because their architectural styles were so different,” Minger remembers. “Nobody had the foresight to say this isn’t going to work. It was going to be chic and urban.”

Similar new villages sprung up all over Europe and Vail Associates – the predecessor of today’s Vail Resorts – was ready to copy what had worked before.

“Vail was still searching for an identity and looking at Europe for the template. The village was the old Europe, so Lionshead was fashioned after modern European ski villages,” Minger said.

When it comes to Lionshead’s second chance, the next two years will be crucial and a name change alone won’t do it, said Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz.

“Lionshead certainly carries a connotation of nearly a second class citizen, vis-a-vis the Vail Village or Vail itself,” he said. “The name change would make sense as a piece of the bigger picture. But changing the name alone without getting some things done, in my opinion, won’t have the desired effect that we are looking for – the revitalization of Lionshead.”

The much-talked about “renaissance,” or rebirth of Vail, has been gaining momentum over the past six months. This spring Vail Resorts announced its plans to redevelop five of its properties in Lionshead for close to $500 million. Since then, at least 20 individual commercial property owners have said they are planning to revamp their holdings for another $200 million. Most of the development, if approved and financed, would take place between 2004 and 2007 and culminate in half of Lionshead’s buildings sporting a new look.

Porter Wharton III, senior vice president of public affairs for Vail Resorts, said the ski company’s executives are behind a name change to go along with redevelopment.

“The thinking now is that visitors need to understand that Vail is one community. The Lionshead name confuses people more than anything,” Wharton said.

“We think that with all the exciting things on the table now is an appropriate time to reunite things and find a new name for Lionshead.”

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at ghaldner@vaildaily.com


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