Vail parking group considering whether, and how, to charge for summer parking
By the numbers
1,217: Vehicle capacity of the Vail Village parking structure.
1,000: Capacity of the Lionshead parking structure.
200: Capacity of the main structure at Vail Health.
453: Capacity of the new Vail Health structure, set to open in 2020.
Sources: Town of Vail, Vail Health
VAIL — Town officials may finally start to charge for summer parking this year. But is that a permanent solution to a temporary problem?
Part of Vail Health’s two-year plan to renovate the hospital’s east wing includes replacing the current 200-space parking structure with a 453-space facility. But that’s going to take two years.
Vail Health has plans to shuttle in employees, but the town’s traditional free summer parking may encourage some of those people to drive in the warmer months. That, in turn, has the potential to return the town’s structures, particularly in Lionshead Village, to the chronically packed weekday conditions seen in 2016.
That crunch led the town to revive its parking task force. That group of business representatives and community members has since made recommendations to the Vail Town Council about ways to better manage the town’s parking inventory.
It was a task force recommendation in 2017 that sparked the first increase in parking rates in nearly a decade.
Another crunch coming
Now, faced with the prospect of another summer of parking structures filled with more employees than guests, the task force at its Thursday, Jan. 11, meeting started talking seriously about charging for summer parking.
That’s a sensitive subject.
Business owners have for years said free summer parking is an important part of attracting people to town. On the other hand, free summer parking has long been used as an alternative to paid parking in town hotels and as a way for residents to store vehicles in the warmer months.
Kelsie Papiersky, of the town’s parking department, on Thursday told the task force that storage and lodging guests every day in the summer occupy about one-third of the Vail Village parking structure’s roughly 1,200 spaces.
Task force member Meg Hanlon said her business has 11 employees, all of whom drive to the Vail Village structure in the summer.
But the goal of the structures, Hanlon added, is guest parking.
“We have to free up enough space” for those guests, she said.
But will charging for summer parking keep guests away?
Alison Wadey, of the Vail Chamber & Business Association, told task force members that paid summer parking could damage some struggling Vail businesses.
“A lot of our businesses are going to be hurting at the end of the (ski) season,” Wadey said.
Wadey added that new businesses, in particular, could be in precarious financial straits this summer.
Free parking also can bring guests who probably don’t visit in the winter, Wadey said.
“I hear it all the time: I can’t believe there’s free parking in Vail,” she said. “Those are the kind of things that carry the perception that it’s affordable.”
Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton also cautioned task force members about being too quick with a recommendation for paid summer parking.
Clifton noted that there’s a lot of information about what other resort communities do in the summer. But, he added, “We hear all the time that Vail’s the leader. We should set the standard.”
Task force members questioned whether there could be some kind of system that would allow several hours of free parking but impose charges for people staying longer than six or eight hours, as well as overnight parking.
Task force member Brian Butts, of the Evergreen Lodge, recommended three hours of free parking, with a $10 charge for eight hours and the full winter rate for vehicles parked overnight.
Whatever system is ultimately adopted needs to be thought out fairly quickly.
Vail Public Works Director Greg Hall told the task force that the Vail Town Council would need to take up the issue no later than mid-February in order to pass regulations in time for summer.
Whatever system is adopted, Shelly Jarnot told the task force she’s working on a way to help. Jarnot has developed vailparking.com. When it’s fleshed out — which will require information from both the town and every private parking facility in town — the site will allow users to find and reserve spaces.
“We want to put some of these unutilized spaces to work,” she said.
Ultimately, though, the Vail Health project is only two years long. Wadey urged the task force to remember that when considering long-term changes.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930.