Town of Vail set to celebrate its 50th anniversary |

Town of Vail set to celebrate its 50th anniversary

Vail was still finding its way in 1966 when Vail Associates and community residents decided the fledgling village should be an incorporated town. Town officials will celebrate that milestone Aug. 23.
Special to the Daily | Special to the Daily

Celebrating the community

The town of Vail is only spending one day to celebrate its 50th birthday — Aug. 23 — but it’s going to be a busy day.

• A VIP luncheon will be held on Pepi’s Deck from 11: 30 a.m.-1 p.m.

• At 1:30 p.m. comes the unveiling of a commemorative boulder at Mayors Park, across from the Main Vail fire station.

• A community birthday party is set from 4 to 6 p.m. at Donovan Park and Pavilion. That event includes recognition of past and current council members and other officials and a tribute to town employees with more than 20 years of service.

The celebration also includes group photos, food, family activities and raffle drawings.

The town will also award the first Trailblazer Award. This will be an annual award, given to Vail residents whose work has affected the community.

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VAIL — The success of Vail Mountain was far from assured in 1966. The idea to create a full-fledged town out of a ski resort base area was no sure thing, either. But both today are thriving.

With the Vail ski area struggling financially in the mid-1960s, people from Vail Associates — the precursor to Vail Resorts — and those who lived in the community decided that the base area needed to become a town, primarily to establish a tax base. A town would also be able to issue debt to pay for things such as police and fire protection as well as water and sewer lines and streets.

Like just about everything else about Vail’s early days, it wasn’t easy, and required some creativity.

Rod Slifer, who moved to Vail before the start of the 1962-’63 season, recalls that while the resort company and residents agreed on the need to create a town, the number of property owners in the proposed town boundaries fell short of state requirements.

To get the numbers up, Slifer said Vail Associates sold a pair of lots on the west end of Forest Road to a pair of groups. There were enough people in those groups to meet the state-required numbers.

Vail Associates also helped the town sell its first revenue bonds, Slifer said. At the time, Denver investment bank Boettcher & Company was the only financial institution willing to sell bonds for the fledgling town. Some of Vail Associates’ original investors bought the bulk of those bonds.

Some had to stay

While the success of the new town was as uncertain as the future of the ski resort, some residents had to stick around.

Dr. Tom Steinberg, Vail’s first full-time doctor, had moved to the community a couple of years before the town was created. He said everyone involved in the new venture in those early years had taken a huge risk.

“I and my family lost money for the first two years we were here — we didn’t have the money to move away,” Steinberg said.

Another early resident, Jim Slevin, said becoming a town back then was a necessity beyond just streets and public safety.

“We had no guidance whatsoever,” Slevin said. “People were excited to make something happen, like a town … We all did our bit to make things different, better.”

The Steinberg family stuck around, of course, and Tom served on various town boards and the Town Council.

Looking back, Steinberg said he’s most proud of his role in creating the town’s ample open space.

“We kept it from being wall-to-wall housing,” Steinberg said. “One of the things we sell here is the beauty. If we were wall-to-wall housing, we wouldn’t have that.”

During the town’s first decade or so, and thanks in large part to donations from Vail Associates, the new town ended up owning a lot of property in town. Steinberg said the town owned or controlled one-third of all the property in town that wasn’t owned or controlled by the State of Colorado or the U.S. Forest Service.

That dedication to open lands was part of a larger community vision.

Vision and character

Jim Lamont, the town’s first planning director, said the town’s residents in the early 1970s developed that long-term vision, elements of which are used to this day.

Pete Seibert Jr. grew up in Vail, the son of one of the resort’s founders. Seibert said becoming a town, and not just a village at the base of a resort has been crucial for Vail.

Sun Valley, Idaho, was a resort for many years before finally incorporating as a town. That place has a different feel than Vail, Seibert said.

Being a town gives a place character, Seibert said.

“If we didn’t have the town, I don’t think there’d be the same vibrancy from the next generation,” Seibert said. “If you don’t have the town aspect — the boards and the councils — those are places everybody can contribute.”

While Vail has become successful by virtually any measure, Lamont said there have been missteps along the way, particularly when it comes to parking, transportation and housing. And, he added, the lack of representation for second-home owners is an issue that may assume greater importance in the future.

Still, residents of a community became citizens of a town in 1966. That gave them a voice in their own affairs. Those affairs were a gamble then, one that’s paid off handsomely.

“The circumstances worked for us here,” Slevin said.

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