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Vail focuses on its first floors

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” What began as a town rule to keep a mix of shops and restaurants available to village shoppers in Vail, Colorado may become difficult to enforce this year.

The town of Vail’s rules only allow certain kinds of businesses, such as retail stores, restaurants and lodges, in the street-level spaces of the villages. That means that with a few exceptions, offices and commercial ski storage are not allowed on the first-floor spaces.

The idea behind the zoning rule is to keep a mix of shopping available to visitors, and to keep businesses that generate sales tax, which is the town’s biggest revenue source, on the street level.

However some community members say they are worried that as the economy gets worse and businesses struggle to stay afloat, it will be increasingly tempting to fill the village’s first floors with professional offices.

Because Vail Village has a mix of shops and restaurants, visitors can wander around town and window shop, said Ghiqui Hoffmann, owner of the Laughing Monkey, a jewelry and accessory shop.

“(Customers) like the experience of being able to walk around from shop to shop,” she said. “They don’t tend to wander into a dentist office or real estate office unless they’re specifically looking for that. It makes the town and the village much more interesting to have shops that have cute and interesting window displays.”

She said she thinks that in a tough economy, it might be easy to allow real-estate and other professional offices on the first floors. The problem will be when the economy returns to normal, and the village is lined with offices, she said.

The next big addition of shopping to the village will be Solaris, which will be completed in 2010. The development’s street-level floor will have retail shops, galleries, restaurants, and a bowling alley, said Craig Cohn, director of sales, marketing and leasing for the project.

“I agree with the town regulations,” he said. “I think that makes for good overall shopping experience for guests as well.”

Vail resident Kaye Ferry pointed out that several businesses have found what she calls loopholes to the rule.

She pointed out one first-floor shop that she says is rarely open, she said.

The town has no regulations on the hours of operation of village stores, said George Ruther, Vail’s community development director.

“It’s a loophole that has to be tightened,” Ferry said. “We’re the envy of the ski industry because we’ve had this (rule) in place forever.”

Other ski towns end up with rows of real estate offices lining the first floor of their villages, she said.

The town has also looked into the old Billabong building in Vail Village, where the Four Seasons Resort plans to house its ski valet services.

When guests and owners check-in at the resort, their skis will go to the slopeside building to be stored, said the resort’s spokeswoman Emily McCormack.

Town rules say that commercial ski storage, where equipment is stored for a fee, is only allowed in the basement or garden level of buildings. However, the exception is if the ski storage is part of a lodge or home and a fee isn’t charged, meaning that the Four Seasons building is in the clear.

Ferry and Jim Lamont, Vail Homeowners Association president, encouraged the town council to close the loopholes before offices begin springing up in the villages.

“You just don’t want it to happen, and it can happen in a heartbeat,” Ferry said. “Many building owners will be standing (before the town council) with some sad tale of why they can’t make retail work in their building.”

Lamont said the restrictions are important to keep rents competitive for retail store owners.

“Our aim is to ensure maximum survivability of Vail’s retail businesses,” he said.

Ruther said the town will identify some of the problems with the rules and present the findings to the town council.

“If the council wishes to make some amendments, that will be the next step,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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