Thumbs up for Four Seasons
With a unanimous vote, the Town Council gave its final nod Tuesday to the developer of a Four Seasons hotel, with plans including 118 rooms, 22 time-share units, 18 condominiums, 34 employee-housing units and various retail, restaurant and spa facilities.
“This is a big one, the first sign of the big, positive changes in Vail. In my opinion, it will put Vail in a much better position to compete with other resorts, like Beaver Creek with the Hyatt and Bachelor Gulch with the Ritz-Carlton,” Vail Mayor Ludwig Kurz said after the vote. “It’s obvious the clientele we draw expects that level of luxury and service.”
Long time coming
The Four Seasons will replace the Chateau at Vail, one of the town’s first hotels and once operated by Holiday Inn. That structure, along with the adjacent Amoco gas station, was slated for demolition this summer after the council gave its preliminary approval in May.
However, relatively minor issues with neighbors – owners of condominiums at Nine Vail Road to the south were concerned about parking spaces and others in the Scorpio complex to the west were worried about blocked views – have delayed the project since then.
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Councilman Dick Cleveland expressed continued frustration last month when the project was again delayed over relatively minor issues. He said it was time for the Four Seasons to live or die.
“We can’t afford to have that kind of thing hold this up any longer,” Cleveland said.
The Scorpio homeowners ultimately gave way on blocked views, however, and last-minute negotiations Tuesday with owners at Nine Vail Road apparently settled the parking problem.
Councilwoman Diana Donovan, long a champion of protecting views in Vail, said the project is a “good” one, although the town should be careful when approving zoning projects of this scope.
“Height restrictions are our view corridors. Views make Vail special, and government doesn’t have the right to take them away,” she said. “There’s other towns to move to. Take away views and you take away what makes a property special. Might as well move to another resort.”
The developer, T.J. Brink of the Denver-based H.B. Development Company– who has repeatedly come to the council this year as negotiations continued – appeared relieved to proceed.
“All developments are tough, but this is definitely a step in the right direction,” Brink said. “We’ll be moving forward as soon as possible.”
What happens now
Brink said he will purchase the aging Chateau at Vail from its present owner, Brazilian developer Waldir Prado, upon final approval by the council. Prado also owns the Vail Village Inn across the street, which is slated for redevelopment into another, $110 million, five-star hotel, the Vail Plaza. The “VVI” is currently undergoing asbestos-abatement procedures and demolition is expected to follow later this year. Brink said last month the Four Seasons likely will undergo similar asbestos procedures this winter, too, with demolition planned for next spring.
Prado originally had planned to redevelop the Chateau at Vail himself and call it Vail Plaza West. It was to be the Italian wing of a massive project estimated to cost $220 million. Early designs featured a 10,000-square-foot atrium, a 27,000-square-foot convention facility and a 34,000-square-foot spa. That was to to go with the Vail Plaza East, a $110-million, luxury establishment with 238 rooms, convention space, a health club and restaurants to replace the Vail Village Inn.
“Vail gained a very good, good project today, as well as good people to handle it,” Prado said of Brink and his team. “We just have to settle things and close the deal. The ball’s in their court.”
The massive Chateau at Vail was going to be vacant last winter as it made its way through Vail’s approval process. But in December, Vail Resorts leased the building from and managed the property through April as an economically priced hotel with 120 rooms.
“This is light years ahead of it being empty and dark,” said Vail’s town manager at time, Bob McLaurin. He also said the economic activity the property would generate would help the town’s flagging revenues.
Special 50 percent discount rates were available on the Internet, with rooms going for $98- to $153-a-night, depending on the time of ski season.
“With the Chateau scheduled to be vacant throughout the season and with the Vail Village Inn having been converted into employee housing this year, we realized that there was going to be a shortage of quality, economically-priced rooms in Vail,” said Toni Piringer, vice president of hospitality for Vail Resorts. Piringer said the deal would fill an additional 120 rooms and, in turn, generate activity in the village and help stimulate the economy.
“Eager for improvements’
Planners with Vail’s Community Development Department have said all along the Four Seasons and the Vail Plaza are good projects, and the town has been excited to have two new luxury hotels nearing construction.
“The town is eager for the improvements,” George Ruther, a town planner, said last month. “Now, really, it’s just a matter of when they happen.”
What seems certain now is Vail’s main roundabout will become the epicenter for three massive projects for quite some time, with the Vail Plaza and the Four Seasons to the south of Interstate 70 and the Middle Creek affordable housing project to the north.
Redevelopment by ordinance
The go-ahead from the Town Council to build a Four Seasons hotel may be big news for the town of Vail, but the layman may have a hard time figuring out what it all means if he only looks at the books.
Basically, approval comes in the form passing two town ordinances:
– Ordinance No. 9 of 2003, an amendment to to another ordinance, Special Development District No. 36, which allows for redevelopment of the existing Chateau at Vail, as well as the Vail Amoco gas station. According to the Town Code, a special development district’s purpose is to “encourage flexibility and creativity in the development of land, in order to promote its most appropriate use … and to further the overall goals of the community.”
– Ordinance No. 10 of 2003, which redefines the land now occupied by the Amoco gas station for zoning purposes. Lot 9A, previously zoned as a “heavy service district” for automotive- and truck-oriented uses, is now zoned as a “public accommodation district,” intended “to ensure adequate light, air, open space and other amenities commensurate with lodge uses … (enhancing) the nature of Vail as a vacation community,” according to the Town Code.