Vail civic area plan will be ambitious and expensive
Vail Town Council evaluating options, costs and possible financing methods
VAIL — As Vail officials over the summer work on ideas to renovate the town’s aging “civic area,” some things are becoming clear:
- It’s probably best to replace Dobson Ice Arena.
- There seems to be a good bit of demand for what’s being called a “multi-use” events facility.
- This is going to be nine-figure expensive.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday afternoon and evening spent more than three hours discussing options for the plan, from how to either renovate or replace aging facilities to how to pay for those improvements.
The town hall and the ice arena are both more than 40 years old, and that will play a role in how the town decides to repair or replace those facilities. Dobson has a particularly long list of needed repairs, including a leaking refrigeration system.
Time to take on debt?
Those factors may lead the town to take a path it hasn’t in nearly 30 years: Issue long-term debt. The town last took that step in 1991, and in the years since has built its reserves to pay cash for most of its big capital needs.
But these needs are larger than the town’s ample reserves can handle. One iteration of a new ice arena comes in at an estimated price of more than $100 million. Relocating a short stretch of South Frontage Road — essentially swapping the road and town hall sites — would be millions more.
Consultant Andrew Knudtsen of Economic & Planning Systems ran through several options for council members. The options include creating a “downtown development district” or a “public improvement fee” assessed on just businesses in the civic area.
There’s also the prospect the town might ask voters for either a sales tax or lodging tax increase, or both. Together, a .5% sales tax increase and a 1.5% lodging tax increase could generate about $7 million per year.
Voters would have to approve any bond issue or tax increase, but a report from the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council indicates that the town’s lodging community is likely to support a tax increase to build an events center.
Is there a partner?
Then there’s the matter of whether or not the town should enter a partnership for an events center. While council members supported a partnership, they said they would only want to lease town-owned land for that purpose.
Knudtsen said a preliminary investigation has shown “strong interest” from operators to put another luxury hotel in Vail.
Where to build that center is a crucial question to answer in the plan. Options include the current charter bus lot, between the Lionshead parking structure and Dobson, or, perhaps on the current town hall site.
Then there’s the question about how much ice a new arena requires. The consultant team believes the arena — with modern equipment and fast turnaround times between events and open ice — could get by with one sheet of National Hockey League-regulation ice. Adding another sheet adds more millions to the project’s cost.
But the Friends of Dobson — a local group that supports the arena — disagrees.
Friends of Dobson chairwoman Laurie Mullen told council members that while just more than half of the current arena’s use is dedicated to various skating activities, there’s demand for much more ice time.
Current programs can’t recruit more participants due to limited ice time, Mullen said.
“There is a need for a second ice sheet,” Mullen said.
Skating coach Tara Lane agreed, telling council members that another sheet of ice is essential for numerous programs.
“Our ice is what our athletes train on,” Lane said. “Being displaced (due to events) makes it difficult to continue training.”
Lane said a second ice sheet would allow growth in local figure skating programs and would allow organizers to expand youth hockey tournaments.
Those programs would also bring people to town, she said.
Aside from support for renovating the town’s civic area, some residents questioned the idea for facilities that would bring more people to town.
Resident Sam Maslak lives near the Vail golf course. He asked council members if they’d thought about the additional parking needs an expanded ice arena or events center would create.
“Someone who has an unpleasant parking experience isn’t coming back,” Maslak said.
But longtime resident Rod Slifer told the council to keep working on big ideas for the town.
“I think you’re doing the right thing,” Slifer said. “There will be some controversy — but that’s fun.”
Yunlong Chen was last spotted at the Vail Transportation Center between 8:15 and 9 a.m. on Feb. 28; a little while later his ski pass was scanned at Gondola One. That was the last known activity related to Chen.