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Vail businesses fear more construction

Kathy Lippert/Vail DailyBill Suarez, owner of Billy's Island Grill in Lionshead, says he's against a proposal to redevelop the Lionshead parking garage.
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VAIL ” Diners at Bill Suarez’s open-air restaurant look directly out to a sea of iron girders.

For more than a year, Billy’s Island Grill in Lionshead has been across the street from the Arrabelle at Vail Square construction site. And it will be more than a year before the project is done. The construction has clearly cut into his business, Suarez said.

“We need a break,” he said.

But a new project that’s appeared on the horizon this summer could spell several more years of construction in Lionshead on perhaps the largest project Vail has ever seen.

Two developers have submitted plans to redevelop the Lionshead parking structure.

The construction of the proposal ” and the loss of parking for a summer or longer ” could have a severe effect on his business, Suarez said.

“If they do proceed, they are in for a fight,” Suarez said, referring to a petition drive to challenge an approved plan.

Several other Lionshead businesses share Suarez’s objections. The merchants object to the prospect of more construction and lost parking. They also question the speed at which the process has moved along.

The town asked for proposals for the garage on May 10. It reviewed rough plans from the developers earlier this month, and it will look at detailed plans over the next several months. The town wants the council to make a decision by November.

The town hasn’t committed to doing anything at the site yet, but it has given both developers the go-ahead to submit detailed plans. East West Partners of Avon and Open Hospitality Group/Hillwood Capital of Dallas are the two developers vying to redo the structure.

Nicole Hoffman, general manager of the General Store in Lionshead, said she applied to take down part of a wall in her store in December. She’s still waiting for a permit from the town for the $6,000 project.

“I have no indication that I’m any closer than the day I submitted it,” she said.

For Hoffman, that’s a troubling juxtaposition with the half-billion-dollar Lionshead garage proposal, which she said has advanced on a swift timeline since it began this spring.

“It’s almost like it’s so small they don’t care about it,” she said about her own remodel.

The Lionshead parking garage process should be happening more slowly with more public input, Hoffman said. Because the land is town-owned, public input is all the more important, Hoffman said.

The recent construction has affected the General Store, too, Hoffman said. When construction of the Arrabelle began last summer, business was down 30 percent compared to the previous summer, she said.

“I just see no end in sight to the construction,” she said.

Business has also been slow for Tom Neyens, owner of the Ski Valet in Lionshead. On Thursday, he rented just one bike. Construction of a new Lionshead garage would only exacerbate his problems, he said.

“There are so many issues that make this wrong,” he said.

It’s not realistic to tear down the structure and replace the parking in six months, Neyens said. Most of his customers rely on the structure for parking in the summer, he said.

Like Hoffman, he objected to the speed of the process and the amount of public input that has been solicited.

Neyens questioned how the project was first presented to the Town Council in the town manager’s report at the end of its May 2 meeting, a portion of the meeting often reserved for updates of mundane town business.

“Town of Vail business is not a half-billion-dollar project that comes up at 11 o’clock at night,” he said.

Neyens called on Vail Resorts to work to provide parking, possibly in West Lionshead, where the town and Vail Resorts have contemplated a parking garage as part of the redevelopment of the area.

Dimitri Souvorin, co-owner of Montauk Seafood Grill, said his business ” whose front door is feet away from the Arrabelle project ” needs a break from the construction.

“I think (the Lionshead garage redevelopment is) inevitable, but the timing couldn’t be worse,” he said.

Councilman Greg Moffet said the merchants’ concerns are legitimate ” “Lionshead deserves a break,” he said ” but the town has an obligation to consider the developers’ proposals. “The opportunity is in front of us now, and I think we have to take it very seriously,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know if the town can wait five or six years and be assured that opportunities for the garage will still be there then.

The garage needs millions in improvements even to reach the end of its useful life, which is 10 to 15 years away. A replacement for the structure on the taxpayers’ dime would cost tens of millions.

“Would we be able to divert that taxpayer obligation is something we have to consider,” he said.

Councilman Kevin Foley, a resident of Lionshead, voted not to proceed with the process, in part due to the effect the project would have on nearby businesses, he said.

“People over here, they’re struggling to make a living now,” Foley said.

A parking plan needs to be in place for the time that the Lionshead garage is closed. And continued large-scale construction will prevent people from visiting Vail, Foley said.

“The valley of the cranes is nice for a little while,” he said. “But when people drive by and see cranes, they don’t have that inclination to pull off if they think the whole town will be torn up.”

Harry Frampton, whose East West Partners is one of the two developers in the running for the potential redevelopment, said he will work to come up to solutions for the merchants.

“The questions and the concerns are absolutely appropriate,” he said. “My sense is that this is one of the things we have to come up with in concert with the town ” ways to mitigate the concerns. I don’t blame them for having the concerns.”

But Frampton said that the project would ultimately benefit Lionshead, bringing more hotels guests to the area. Frampton said Friday that East West will hold community meetings next month to get input from residents on the project. The company is still designing its plan for the site, Frampton said.

Mark Masinter of the Open/Hillwood group said he’ll be talking about his group’s ideas, as well as parking solutions, at meeting at 5 p.m., Wednesday at the Red Lion in Vail Village. He also will hold a meeting for retailers and hoteliers on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. at the Antlers.

“The only way this ultimately gets approved as a project is once we’ve satisfied those concerns,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorad


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