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Truly a Crossroads for Vail

Don Cohen

Of all the announcements of new projects in Vail, one of the most intriguing is also one of the most misunderstood: the Crossroads redevelopment.Perhaps more than any other new project in Vail, Crossroads is a focal point for a serious philosophical debate. For some, it’s a debate about the threat that this may be a tipping point that ends the nostalgic ambience of a quaint Colorado ski town. For others, it’s a debate on the best path to economic revitalization for the town of Vail.In the 1969 town master plan the Crossroads property was deemed as a good location for a dog kennel or Laundromat. This is a telling example of how a community’s vision changes over the years. Few, if any, would want to go back to the simpler view of 1969.It’s a tough call. How does the “new” keep the good “feel” of the past? Looking beyond the emotional issues of size and aesthetics, the most serious question is what economic decisions in 2005 maintain relevancy and prosperity in 2035? Facades are easy to update and change, but basic economic infrastructure isn’t.Today the Vail Town Council will start a process of more fully evaluating the Crossroads project. The bell hasn’t even rung yet for round one, but the misconceptions and myths are already starting to build. I’ve spent a couple of weeks talking with a variety of people inside and outside the project. Here’s what I’ve learned:You may have heard that this will be a 10-story project. What hasn’t been told is that only six stories are above ground. The other four are below. Last week I counted the stories at the Hyatt in Beaver Creek. It’s seven stories above ground, with two stories underground. The Crossroads project is big, nearly 650,000 square feet, but half of that is BELOW ground. The visible square footage above ground would be 50,000 square feet LESS than the new Four Seasons hotel!Size and scale are very real concerns, but the Crossroads height profile would be only slightly higher than the buildings next door and to the north. What’s next to impossible to tell from the renderings is that the look of the building isn’t a sheer vertical wall (like the Hyatt), it rises in steps that would make it look much less imposing.Another concern is the exterior appearance. The first exterior renderings showed a beautiful exterior that just wasn’t part of the Vail image. The latest version is a much improved mix of wood and stone that would blend in more thoughtfully with the surrounding buildings.As proposed, the new Crossroads would provide the town of Vail something that town businesses have been clamoring for for the past decade – a way to bring locals back to Vail. The plan adds 500 more parking spaces, a wintertime ice rink and 60,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space. It would house a four-screen movie theater and sports bar/bowling alley. Additionally, its retail business model would allow a leasing and management structure more like a shopping center, in which there would be better control of tenant mix. This is a huge advantage in maintaining an interesting and flexible retail arrangement as the years go by.If Crossroads draws more local business from residents in Edwards or Avon and keeps visitors in town in the evenings instead of driving downvalley for dinner and movie at Riverwalk, how is that NOT a public benefit?Today Crossroads generates $179,000 a year of revenue for the town of Vail. The new Crossroads is projected to bring in $2.1 million. If Vail homeowners are looking for a way to keep their property taxes low, this is one excellent way to do so.A redeveloped Crossroads would provide a strong anchor point for long-term economic improvement. In Denver the strategic placement of Coors Field to the north and the Pepsi Center, Elitches and Mile High Stadium to the south created a strong redevelopment incentive, which is what we know as LoDo. Lower downtown Denver is one of the hottest and most successful urban redevelopment areas in the United States. Crossroad’s location offers a similar anchor point for Vail’s redevelopment.The debate about Crossroads will basically boil down to size and looks, but there’s a deeply compelling economic story that really surpasses the atmospherics.This is a $240 million project. Let’s compare that to the new conference center at $42 million. The developer isn’t looking for any tax breaks or subsidies here. So what’s the catch? The expense of adding hundreds of public parking spaces, movie theaters, classy sports bar, bowling alley, heated streets and an ice skating rink is huge. These are public amenities that would be financed by the condominium sales in the project. If, as a few have suggested, the developer lops off a floor, that would eliminate the millions of dollars that would underwrite all the very attractive local benefits.While there’s some nervousness about the economic value of a new convention center, an entertainment and shopping complex like Crossroads would factor quite favorably into a meeting planner’s calculation of bringing a meeting to Vail. Furthermore, it would keep a lot of those convention dollars in Vail.I don’t think the town and the developer are actually all that far apart in finding creative ways to make Crossroads a new point of civic pride. The biggest threat to killing this opportunity is to limit the future potential of Vail by hanging onto a past that no longer exists.It’s ironic that we can look to another Crossroads project, the shopping center in Boulder. While the city of Boulder dithered and debated, the Crossroads Center died a slow death over a decade. That was 10 years of low tax revenue and 10 years of community blight. And after that pageant played itself out, the final solution wasn’t any better than the missed opportunities that came before.Don Cohen, executive director of the Vail Valley Economic Council, can be reached by e-mail at dcohen@vvec.org.Vail, Colorado


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