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Vail may have room for more shops

Kira Horvath/Vail DailyVail Teddy Bears in Vail mugs line the windowsill at the Vail T-Shirt Company in Lionshead as skiers head to the mountain on Friday.
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VAIL ” Bill Suarez isn’t sure there’s a need for the new stores that are being proposed in the Lionshead parking garage redevelopment.

A Texas group’s plan to rebuild the garage would increase the number of stores and restaurants in the neighborhood by about 45 percent.

Suarez, owner of Billy’s Island Grill in Lionshead, wondered where the customers and the workers for the additional stores would come from.



“The reason people come to Vail is the mountain,” Suarez said. “I don’t see the fact that if you put a couple more ski shops there it will bring more people.”

He also questioned whether 60,000 new square feet of retail space would remain filled.



Mark Masinter, a spokesman for the Texas group, Open Hospitality Partners/Hillwood Capital, envisions about eight or 10 stores and about three restaurants for the garage site, with mostly national chains. He throws out names like J. Crew, Polo, Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie.

“The day it opens it’ll be full,” he said.

The new development would make visitors spend more money in Vail, and it would also attract new visitors to Vail, he said.



Lionshead hasn’t reached its full potential when it comes to retail, and the new stores wouldn’t take business away from other merchants, Masinter said.

“People will spend a lot more money if we give them more options,” he said.

The Town Council is expected to decide next month whether the garage should be rebuilt. Open/Hillwood is proposing a W Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, condos, timeshares, a conference center, stores, restaurants, and more public parking in the $600 million project.

Town officials say the aging garage, built in 1981, needs significant repairs if it is not rebuilt over the next few years.

A second developer, Beaver Creek-based East West Partners, dropped out of contention last week to rebuild the garage.

There have been a few studies of retail in Vail over the last few years. A 1997 study by Design Workshop said there wasn’t enough diversity in Lionshead.

“There are several T-shirt shops and sports equipment shops which sell identical products, gear and apparel,” it said. “This homogeneous character of Lionshead can quickly saturate visitors by exposing them to a repetitive experience.”

A 2001 study by Outcalt and Johnson, a consultant, said Lionshead should focus on younger people.

“Focus Vail Village on Baby Boomers, focus Lionshead on Echo Baby Boomers,” it said.

It even suggested a W hotel for Lionshead.

East West Partners ” which was vying to redevelop the Lionshead garage until it dropped out last week ” commissioned a study by retail expert Ian Thomas that was released this year.

“The (proposed East West) development will create a much enhanced overall retail experience and retail sales will increase with thus greater benefits to the town,” the study said.

East West’s proposal included 38,500 square feet of shops and restaurants.

The key to Lionshead’s success is creating a gathering place, and retail plays a big role in that, the study said.

Ralf Garrison, a ski resort analyst with the Denver-based Advisory Group, said ski resorts need a balance between activities, places to stay, places to shop and transportation.

“If any one is less than another, it becomes a limiting factor,” Garrison said.

So if Vail has enough beds, transportation and activities, it can support more retail, he said.

Kaye Ferry, executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, a local chamber of commerce, said she hopes the Lionshead redevelopment would diversify Vail’s stores beyond low-end T-shirt shops and high-end fur shops.

“I have always thought that more retail is only good for us,” Ferry said. “Rents come down. For that reason, we can offer a wider range of products.”

On any given day, Ferry said, there are more people shopping in Vail than there are people skiing.

Michael Robinson, president of the Vail Valley Partnership, a regional chamber of commerce, said Vail needs to introduce new kinds of stores that it doesn’t already have, not simply add retail “for the sake of retail.”

“You have to be smart about it,” Robinson said. “You have to be strategic about it.”

Stores can be a factor when vacationers pick one resort over another, Robinson said.

The Vail Valley Partnership has said it endorses the redevelopment of the garage.

Mark Gordon, a Vail councilman, said there’s not a finite amount of shoppers coming into the town to be spread around. More stores will attract more people, he said.

“Right now, we just don’t have the critical mass in Vail,” he said

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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