Vail council mulls funding sources for pricey civic area upgrades | VailDaily.com

Vail council mulls funding sources for pricey civic area upgrades

Whatever the town decides, work will be expensive

Vail's "civic area" is the focus of the town's most recent planning efforts.

VAIL — Refreshing the area between Vail Village and Lionshead is going to take a lot of thought — and a lot of money.

Planning for that roughly 10-acre area — which includes Vail’s town hall, Dobson Ice Arena, the Vail Public Library and the Lionshead Parking Structure — is a long process, but took a few steps Tuesday.

There’s still a lot to figure out, including how to pay for those improvements.

Simply replacing Dobson — an idea most council members support — could cost $48 million or more.

Big and bigger numbers

Numbers get even bigger, depending on what’s being discussed.

Moving the town hall and police department to the existing charter bus parking lot on the southeast corner of the parking structure property, along with parking, a plaza and a second ice sheet carries an estimated cost of more than $100 million.

The planning team — which includes local planner Tom Braun, Lou Bieker of 4240 architects and Tim Morzel of EPS, a strategy firm — has evaluated various funding sources, from existing funds to new taxes and bond issues. But any of the plans will be expensive.

Regarding one of the expensive items, members seemed to reject an idea that would relocate South Frontage Road between the main Vail Interstate 70 interchange and the parking structure.

The idea behind moving the road to the north would be better access between the current town hall campus and the rest of town.

Council members balked at the estimated cost — $12 million or more — and wondered what the ultimate benefit might be.

Given the cost, “I just don’t see the upside,” council member Kevin Foley said.

Council members seem more willing to talk about the complete replacement of Dobson, although what a new facility might look like is still up for discussion.

Council members also seem to favor a plan that would include some sort of meeting facilty that could accommodate bigger groups than the town’s hotels now host.

Don’t go it alone

Resident and former council member Margaret Rogers urged the town to pursue some sort of public-private partnership for that space.

Rogers said the idea of the town building and operating such a facility — and absorbing annual losses to cover operating expenses — “is a nightmare we do not want to go anywhere near.”

Longtime residents involved in town government are still leery of a failed conference center idea in the early 2000s. Town voters passed a lodging tax to fund a center, but costs quickly rose beyond the tax’s ability to pay for the town-operated center.

If the town doesn’t tackle a conference center on its own, another option might be a partnership with a hotel.

Former Mayor Andy Daly questioned how realistic that idea might be. Daly told council members he’s aware of only a couple of recently built resort town hotels, neither of which has significant conference space.

“The reality is, if you’re looking for that kind of space, you will have to subsidize it,” Daly said.

That would mean finding still more money to pay for ideas in the various plans. Finding that money could be tricky.

One option included a 30-year infusion of $5 million per year from the town’s capital improvement budget. The plan would also tap a good bit of money from the town’s reserve funds.

Bob Armour, another former town mayor, didn’t like that idea — nor did sitting council members.

“I don’t want to spend down the fund balance — I like a big, fat (town) bank account,” Armour said. And, he added, he has doubts that town voters would support any kind of tax increase to generate more funds for projects.

Current Mayor Dave Chapin agreed with Armour’s assessment of using town reserves.

“In my eyes, our reserves are for catastrophic events,” Chapin said. “I just see these numbers and say, “whoa.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.