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Skiing not so important

Kim Marquis
Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk To continue building sales tax revenue to provide services to residents and tourists, town officials in Summit County are constantly reviewing the idea of what makes a perfect Main Street.
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FRISCO – Third-generation Friscoite Rob Philippe waited decades for downtown to awaken.”We’re in between two world-class ski areas, on a 4,000-square-foot lake and only 55 minutes to the state Capitol,” he said. “For years I thought, ‘Geez, when’s it going to happen?'” For Philippe, one of three major Main Street developers in town, the wait is over. In the last decade, Philippe has redeveloped about a dozen properties on or near Main Street. He thinks the new buildings look much better than the “old crap,” he says. But other residents are stressed out about small stores disappearing under three-story buildings with underground parking, second-home residences on top floors and thousands of square feet of commercial space.The pressure is felt in many resort towns across the High Country, where governments are scrambling to revitalize downtowns and boost sales tax revenues. Some towns like Aspen consider ramping up zoning to encourage downtown redevelopment. Vail increased density and height restrictions in Lionshead in preparation to start over with ambitious redevelopment and a new master plan.In Frisco, Philippe bemoans a division among residents – who typically decide ballot issues by less than a dozen votes – for squelching long-term vision to revitalize the town’s commercial core.”It’s going to happen anyway,” Philippe says of redevelopment, “so why wait 50 years when we can do it now and enjoy it in our lifetimes.”

Frisco’s residents showed in a recent master planning session they want to limit building heights and density and preserve views and open space. At the same time, they want economic development. That sentiment exasperates economic consultant Ford Frick.Frick says most resort downtowns are products of the 1980s and ’90s, when a day spent on the slopes was topped by a few hours saddled up to a bar followed by a stumble to the nearest restaurant. But the aging baby boomers’ new recreation habits reflect the High Country’s changing market, Frick said. Today, the demographic is slowing down and looking for more refined activities after skiing, which sometimes include a nap back at a nicely appointed townhome.”The traditional resort downtown had lots of bar activity, some restaurants and close physical orientation to skiing. Now we’re finding skiing is not as important,” Frick said. “As people get older and there are more second-home owners and retirees, the goods and services needed are different.”Gifts are no longer the main shopping goal. Babyboomers want to browse high-end furniture, for example, then make a reservation and dine at a nice restaurant.”Then they come home and are in bed by 10:15,” Frick said.The implications to downtowns are that they should bend to the changing market, but towns are limited by a finite amount of property to develop that is restricted by zoning regulations.”It gets people out of their seats, but I suggest to stop what you’re doing and increase density,” Frick said. “You need body heat. (Density) is a mitigation to sprawl, a way to bring vitality and depth to what’s going on downtown.”

In Aspen, a push to increase downtown density with additional third and fourth stories on existing buildings and to dunk a 25 percent open space requirement was met with controversy. While it grapples with the infill zoning changes, Aspen is looking to smaller ideas to revitalize its downtown. This summer, outdoor furniture and new flower planters were placed in public areas to increase the “dwell” time. The town loosened regulations on retail displays and now shops can put sandwich boards and merchandise on sidewalks to liven things up. Other ideas include information kiosks, wayfinding signs and a fire pit in hopes of catering to the shoppers.Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland scoffs at the fire pit idea, questioning whether aging tourists will be attracted by such a feature.”It probably won’t work,” Ireland said at a recent second-home owner conference in Vail. “When you’re 60 years old, you just don’t say, ‘Hey Hon, it warmed up to 12 degrees, let’s go hang around the fire pit and then go buy some time shares and then call it a night.'”Vail is banking on an open ice rink to create vitality in Lionshead. It is only part of a $1 billion effort launched by the ski company and the town to redevelop the aging architecture and fix pedestrian traffic flow problems. A conference center, new condominium and hotel complex, streetscape improvements and other plans will result in 46,000 square feet of new or redeveloped retail space and more than 400 new lodging units by 2008.Rob LeVine, a 25-year Eagle County resident who is general manager of Antler’s, a condominium complex that recently completed an $18 million redevelopment project near Lionshead, supports the plans to revitalize Vail.”Lionshead has always been the poor cousin to Vail Village,” LeVine said, blaming the “brutal” architecture for its sorry reputation. “It’s indicative of lost opportunity here. It’s not a very attractive place to be.”Tourist don’t hang out in unattractive public areas and thus, the restaurants and retail shops struggle, sales tax collections decline and stores eventually close, LeVine said. Unlike in Vail and Aspen, Frisco’s town officials are not actively increasing density or reducing restrictive regulations. If the master planning process is an indication, an attempt to pack in more density would probably fulfill Frick’s prediction and have citizens collectively jump out of their seats.Vail, Colorado


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