Vail gets glimpse at Town Council candidates
VAIL — This town’s evergreen problems — housing and parking — occupied much of center stage during a Tuesday candidate forum at Donovan Pavilion.
There are seven people seeking four seats on Vail’s seven-member Town Council, and this year’s crop of candidates is split between current and former members and newcomers. Tuesday’s forum gave a nearly-full house a chance to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with the candidates.
The seven people running — Ludwig Kurz, the only incumbent, and newcomers Doe Browning, Jen Mason, Mark Christie and Kim Langmaid, along with former council members Dick Cleveland and Kevin Foley — all spoke about fairly consistent themes.
All endorse the proposed for-sale housing plan at the Chamonix parcel near the West Vail fire station. All said Vail has to continue, and perhaps accelerate, its environmental sustainability efforts. No one unambiguously supported paid parking in the summer.
But there were some differences.
Vail is talking again about creating some sort of educational and cultural facility, although after the last failed attempt about a decade ago, no one is ready to call that facility a conference center.
Kurz said the town needs to study the issue and be very sure of what the need for a facility might be.
“We need more information so in 10 years, we’ll know we’ve done the right thing.
Mason questioned the need for a new facility, saying, “We need to look at the space we currently own” to determine if it’s being used properly.
Christie also encouraged caution.
“Before we begin, we need to prove it will be used,” he said.
Foley proposed buying the old Cascade Theater property, between the Cascade Resort & Spa and the parking lot to the north.
“We should tie it up now and have it for future generations,” he said.
Browning said the town still needs a facility that could accommodate about 600 people.
Langmaid said a cultural and educational facility could be a way to help engage young people with the community.
Cleveland, a member of the council that eventually decided to shelve the last idea for a conference center, said the town and its residents need to be sure to refine just what such a facility might look like. During a previous discussion about town facilities, Cleveland recalled that “Something that started as a (swimming) pool turned into an Olympic training center.”
Similarly, candidates had different ideas about parking, although all favored improving safety when powder days or special events require people to park along the town’s frontage roads. Langmaid and Christie suggested the town use school zone-type reduced-speed zones on days when cars and pedestrians mix along those streets.
While the candidates agreed that Vail needs to continue to attract younger guests, there were a number of different ideas to tackle the issue.
Christie suggested more emphasis on marketing to multi-generational families.
Kurz noted that Vail has already embarked on a drive to be the most-connected resort in the U.S. in terms of Internet access, something that’s already paid dividends on social media.
Noting that the GoPro Mountain Games and the Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships have been successful in attracting younger guests, Foley suggested that the town pursue similar events, perhaps for Memorial Day.
Mason said that drawing younger guests may encourage future vacations and advocated for more such events, but he added that they should be skewed toward people 30 and older, not younger guests who can sometimes turn concerts into events that worry town officials.
Browning, the mother of adult children in the millennial generation, said the town needs to encourage events similar to Burton but said she hopes that Burton can soon rely less on town funding than it does now — the town has spent about $400,000 on the event since it’s been in Vail.
A humming economy
In a similar vein, Langmaid suggested that Vail needs to continue to make itself as “accessible and attractive as possible. “We want people to go home inspired and wanting to come back.”
Cleveland said the town needs to continue its efforts of the past few years in bringing events and people to town, but added that the valley as a whole needs to find ways to bring more direct flights to the Eagle County Regional Airport.
As residents chatted and snacked on grilled cheese sandwiches and soup after the event, Bob Armour, former town council member and mayor, said he was impressed with all the candidates.
“It’s a balanced group — I’m impressed,” Armour said.
But Langmaid’s father, Charlie, said Tuesday’s discussion missed perhaps the most important problem facing the town.
“The greatest issue that wasn’t addressed was (Interstate) 70,” he said. “That’s the biggest negative issue facing the town. … We need to find ways to diminish the noise and pollution.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.