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Staying on top harder than getting there

Cliff Thompson
Special to the Daily Harry Frampton
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VAIL- Harry Frampton, managing partner of East West Partners, isn’t afraid to offer his opinions when given the chance to take the podium.His frank assessment of things, as he addressed members of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau Friday in Vail, raised a few eyebrows as he discussed how resorts can best deal with fierce competition and the characteristics that define a successful resort.Though he’s a developer, he even suggested that the county take a long, hard look at how much growth should be allowed.”We need that conversation,” he said. “We’re in this new world and we have to be extraordinarily responsive to change. It’s an incredibly competitive world and it’s terrifying.”He should know. Frampton has developed resort properties across the country – from Hilton Head in South Carolina to Denver, Beaver Creek and Lake Tahoe – with his company, and has traveled the world as chairman of the 25,000-member Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, which promotes smart development.Competition, meanwhile, is global – from the resort in the next county to that in the next state or the next country, Frampton said. “If you’re not passionately committed to improving your project you’ll get slaughtered,” he said. “We as a community are in competition with other resorts and we have to say on top of our game.” Unfortunately for a place like Vail, which is consistently ranked No. 1 by media outlets and reader surveys, it’s not as easy to retain that topmost perch, he said.”It’s easier to get on top than it is to stay on top,” he said. “You tend to get lackadaisical.”Complicating the job of clinging to a top ranking is the need to revitalize aging towns, he said.

“It’s a lot easier to do a new project than to revitalize an old one,” he said. “We have a culture of discarding old and moving on to new things.”The revitalization of Vail will be a good thing, Frampton said, adding that once it is complete, Vail Village and Lionshead will look much more like Beaver Creek.River protectionBut being a top-notch resort town isn’t simply an economic arm-wrestling match, Frampton said. It requires a complex weave of elements that’s similar in its complexity to the characteristics of a successful city. Vail, he said, has been largely successful. “There has to be strong political leadership that is willing to step out and do things,” he said.Successful towns also need to create an environment that stimulates culture and thought. “Without the Ford Amphitheater or the Vilar Center, we wouldn’t be doing nearly as well.”Attracting young people – 20- to 35-year-olds who have new ideas and creative energy – is a key element. Vail has been able to do that successfully with its Hot Summer Nights concerts, the Session snowboard competition and other events, Frampton said.Successful towns need to commit to having seasonal housing that’s as close to downtown as is possible, he said. Public transportation is one of the hallmarks of a successful town, Frampton said.

“We get great grades for that in Eagle County,” he said, adding that it helps resolve the problems crated by the “insanity of I-70.”Equally important to all the other elements is the willingness of towns and other entities to enter into partnerships to accomplish projects. One of those was the development of the Village Center in Beaver Creek, which houses the Vilar Center. It was created by a public/private funding partnership, Frampton said.”Without partnerships things would never have happened,” he said.The final element of successful resort towns is acquisition of open space, Frampton said.”It’s not just having open space on the mountain,” he said. “We need to protect the river going through the valley. The challenge is if we quit doing stuff we will begin a gradual down-tick.”The final element of his talk, he acknowledged, was the most controversial because he broached the subject of controlling how many people should be in Eagle County when it is built out.Limiting growth?”Our county master plan says we’ll have 80,000 – we now have 35,000 or 40,000. We need to think about that,” he said. “It makes me nervous … I’m not sure we’ve thought through the implications.”Eagle County’s development has been on a treadmill going “180 miles-an-hour,” Frampton said.



In neighboring Breckenridge, the town entered into a planning process that took several years to complete, Frampton said. The town had the potential to grow to 50,000 people, but did not. “The vision for that community was that a population of 25,000 to 27,000,” Frampton said. “The thought there would be a higher quality of life with 25,000,” he said, adding that at that level there would be less traffic, harm to water quality and the environment in general.How did Breckenridge do it? “They did the unthinkable. They down-zoned. They purchased conservation easements and transferred some development rights to other towns,” he said, referring to legal tools that block development and conserve empty land. “We need to learn from our friends in Breckenridge and go through this very messy and complicated process,” he added. “We will be 100 times better off if we do.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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