Vail looks to cash in
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – As Vail’s billion-dollar renewal comes to an end, town leaders are left with a new task of making sure the investment was worth it – they have to make sure the people will come now that the buildings are built.
The town’s last three big projects under construction, Solaris, the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton, are set to finish construction this year. Solaris and the Ritz have scheduled opening dates this summer and fall, however rumors have been circulating that the Four Seasons project might not open its doors as soon as construction is finished – local town leaders are watching that project closely.
As the town suffers the consequences of a national and local economic slump, the Vail Town Council and Town Manager Stan Zemler are looking forward.
“We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had a phenomenal investment in this community,” Zemler said at a local business and economic forum Thursday. “And we are sort of asking the question, what do we do now – what do we do to make sure we’re taking advantage of it?”
The town has shifted its focus to guest service – town employees are trying to go above and beyond to do things that people will recognize and appreciate. As the town has to shave its budget away, little by little, those little extras that guests notice will go a long way, town leaders believe.
Ralf Garrison, an economic analyst of resort town economies, told the Vail Town Council in February that the economy is slowly growing toward a recovery, but that it will come slowly. There’s no inherent change in demand coming from the marketplace, so if the town of Vail wants more demand, it will have to earn it, Garrison said.
The way to do that is to add value to the Vail brand, something the town of Vail and Vail Resorts are collaborating on doing.
Kelli McDonald, the town’s economic director, and Adam Sutner, Vail Mountain’s marketing director, announced last week that they’ve been working together to make sure Vail’s brand is marketed as a year-round attraction – that Vail isn’t just a place for skiing, but that it offers a lot during non-winter months. The Vail Local Marketing District advisory board also continues to work on “putting heads in beds,” and with more beds being added, they have their work cut out for them.
Zemler said the town is still recovering from 2009 – a year when sales tax revenues dropped by 14 percent from the year before, parking revenues were down almost $500,000, along with just about every other kind of revenue the town receives.
The town responded, adjusted its budget time and time again, cut 12 full-time positions and reduced overall expenditures by $2.2 million. The actions gave the town a $1.1 million surplus for 2009.
“We’re reaching a normalization of our economy,” Zemler said. “We’re still going to need to be vigilant.”
The Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons and Solaris are projects the town is excited about, he said. Each project is attracting the types of guests and homeowners that Vail really wants to attract, Zemler said.
“They’re impressive projects – they will bring some guests we really want to have here,” Zemler said.