Steaming to September decision
I keep promising to give you an update on my meeting with Open Hospitality Partners and Hill Capital Partnership and cursory review of the two proposals.There were similarities and differences in the two plans presented on Aug. 1 to the Vail Town Council. Let me begin by saying that the presentations should have been made in the evening instead of at the afternoon work session. Really stupid call by those in charge of scheduling, but indicative of their complete disdain for public opinion.But to continue: Each offers over 600,000 square feet of new bed base in a mix of hotel rooms, condos, versions of time-shares etc. East West Partners has determined that we need Class 4 hotel rooms to appeal to a lower market, based on the assumption that what’s already coming on line represents enough high end.I disagree with that and prefer Open/Hill’s concept of a W hotel at one end and a St. Regis at the other. I think we should be focused on providing the best product and letting the market dictate the rates these and other hotels charge.East West is absolutely clear on parking. They will only replace the same number of spots we currently have (1,150) plus approximately 350 spaces required by their new development, but those will not be available to the public. Very emphatically, they said they couldn’t afford to build any more.East West was repeatedly asked if that was an absolute answer, and they kept saying yes. The only way they’re willing to build additional parking is if the town gives a height variance for another floor, something not requested by Open/Hill, who will build within current zoning.Open/Hill would build 1,800 spaces: 1,150 as replacements, approximately 300-350 to mitigate new development, leaving another 300-350 for new public parking. I asked them why they could build more and East West couldn’t. I was told it’s all a question of finances.Then there are the extras. East West proposes office space for non profits, conference space, and retail along Meadow Drive. They’ve no plans for a transportation hub.Open/Hill proposes conference space, performing arts facility, retail, information center and transportation hub. Both want to own the property that their development is on.Thus far, there’s no comparison. Open/Hill offers more of what we need while following the master plan. It would be insane and irresponsible for us to even consider a proposal that does not address the parking shortage. But none of it makes any difference because we still have lots of missing information. We have no appraisals, so we have no idea what we should be getting in exchange for building rights. Housing studies aren’t ready. Transportation and parking analyses aren’t complete. Vail 20/20 community visioning is just starting, and the Vail Recreation District assessment is finished but not yet released.So I have to ask again, what’s the rush and who’s behind it? Let’s look at what we’re being told.There’s the “condition” of the parking structure. Surely it isn’t going to fall to the ground if we wait another six months, a year or even 10 years. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told it has another 25 years of life left. It will undoubtedly need some repairs, but hey, so do I. Yet if it is in such a dire condition, why was that fact never mentioned during the last conference center discussion? Could it be because this time it’s just one more piece of bogus BS?Then there’s the fear that rising interest rates will scare developers away. No worries, I was told. No matter what interest rates do, it’s small potatoes to a developer.And what if we hold off until we do a little more homework? “We’ll still be here. Kaye, this is a dream opportunity for a developer. We’re not going anywhere. As a matter of fact, we’d rather wait if that means getting it right.” Pretty strong statement from Open/Hill. At least one developer is willing to wait, so that can’t be it.Now for public input. The verb input means “to provide information to help somebody make a decision.” As a noun it means “something that enters a process from the outside and is then acted upon or integrated.”So the obvious question would be just what suggestions can be made by the community that “helps somebody (i.e., a developer) make a decision” that they will then “act upon or integrate” into their proposals? Keep in mind two things: the schedule, which calls for an open house on Sept.13, six days before the final choice will be made, and the costs. By that time the developers will have spent close to $4 million in anticipation of a Sept. 19 final decision. What if the public decides on Sept. 13 that they’d rather have a recreation center there? Maybe more ice, skate board park, etc. Just how anxious do you think they’ll be to start over? And what would trigger them listening to you? Your elected officials? Or staff? I don’t think so. They have clearly kept us out of the process so far. There hasn’t even been a pretense of caring about public opinion?Personally, I think the Lionshead parking structure provides a unique development opportunity for the community. And make no mistake, it a unique opportunity for the developers, too, and they know it. Also keep in mind that there’s a big difference between this project and others. This is public land and we have a right to be involved in this discussion. This rush has absolutely nothing to do with the public good.More next week on what’s behind it and where it needs to go before anybody gets a contract. And how about the business community? Especially in Lionshead. What are their thoughts? We’ll see.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail email@example.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.
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