Vail, Eagle County officials are starting to look at reopening plans
Any reopening plan relies first on a go-ahead from public health officials
The Vail Valley’s economy came to a near-shutdown in a matter of days due to the COVID-19 virus. It’s going to take a while to rev up the economic engine when it’s safe to go out again.
Almost from the beginning of the outbreak, people in the valley have been talking about ways to reopen. It’s still too soon to hang the “open” sign on our figurative storefront, but people are looking at ways to help revive the economy while maintaining public safety.
Eagle County’s economic recovery team is led by longtime sustainable communities director Adam Palmer.
In the first couple of weeks of the outbreak, Palmer said he and other county and town employees, along with public health officials, were “grappling with a rush of new information every day.”
In those early days — all of a month ago now — Palmer said the local government response was more about reacting to changing circumstances.
That team is still dealing with immediate needs. Palmer said more than 70 county employees are working to process more than 2,900 applications through the county’s emergency relief fund.
But thinking is starting to turn to ways to restart the local economy.
“We’ve survived, but we took a gut punch,” Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said.
The valley’s chamber of commerce has been involved in group discussions about economic revival.
Romer said the current planning has three levels: Connecting residents and businesses to resources; looking into the world over the next six to nine months; and ensuring businesses are viable and “can reopen in a meaningful way,” Romer said.
The first part of any reopening strategy is going to hinge on when public health officials determine it’s safe for businesses to reopen and people to go out again.
“We need to give assurances to visitors we’re doing everything by the book,” Romer said.
Can we gather?
But opening is going to look different for a restaurant or retail shop than it will for events including the Vail Farmers Market or Avon’s Salute to the USA.
“The concern is… we don’t want to put public health at risk,” Palmer said.
That’s going to require a steady decrease in new cases reported in Eagle County, as well as having widely available testing. As it has been elsewhere, testing has “been one of our biggest challenges,” Palmer said.
Palmer said Vail Health has been a “great” partner in the efforts to reopen the county.
“If we do a phased approach, and non-essential businesses can meet safe distancing requirements,” that will be part of the valley’s reopening, Palmer said.
Given the valley’s dependence on events, when people can gather again is an essential part of reopening.
“The whole idea of bringing people together is something everybody’s asking about,” Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater manager Tom Boyd said. The plan for the Vail Valley Foundation, which operates the amphitheater, is to work with organizations from the Bravo! Colorado Music Festival to the Vail Children’s Chorale so those groups can operate in concert regarding events.
But, Boyd said, it’s still too early to talk about what events might be postponed and what events might be canceled for this year.
But the ability to host events is just one part of the reopening formula.
Since Eagle County was one of Colorado’s early hot spots, the valley may have a perception problem as a place that isn’t safe to visit.
Vail Town Manager Scott Robson acknowledged that hurdle, especially for those who come to the valley from outside the state.
Robson said town of Vail officials have been working with other regional officials about strategies and tactics that might allow those marketing the valley to stress safety along with the valley being a desirable place to visit.
Robson noted that Eagle County has now tested more people per capita than anywhere else in the U.S.
In addition, he said, officials are looking at some innovative ways to welcome back Colorado residents first, then those from other states and nations.
“Hopefully that can be translated into an economic recovery sooner (than other locations),” Robson said.
All this is early, of course. Still, Robson and Palmer said recent discussions have provided some glimmers of what’s to come after the virus outbreak eases.
“It feels too soon for optimism, but it’s never too soon for hope,” Robson said. “This week you hear that sense of hope.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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