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Vail recreation has a new boss

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Dennis Stein
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The Vail Recreation District has a new executive director.

Following a national search for candidates and an extensive interview process, the district’s board of directors has named Dennis Stein, 45, to the post, replacing Piet Pieters, who resigned in December.

“We are proud to have him here,” said the district’s chairman, Nino Licciardi, adding that Stein was the board’s unanimous choice among a field of seven candidates, two of whom visited Vail for final interviews last month.

“He brings over 20 years of diverse experience in the recreation field, and we are confident in his abilities to successfully lead the VRD,” Licciardi said.

Stein, scheduled to take charge Oct. 6, comes to Vail after serving eight years as executive director of the Freeport Park District, the primary recreation provider for about 30,000 residents in Illinois’ Stephenson County. Before that, he worked as superintendent for the Forest Preserve District in Cook County, Ill., as well as program director in Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago.

A recreation liaison

The first order of business in Vail, Stein said Thursday, is getting a feel for what comprises the district, making observations, establishing a relationship with the staff and performing a critical analysis of how services are being delivered and jobs are being done.

He said he sees his role as a “liaison” between the board of directors and his staff.

“I tend to keep a low profile and let the board take credit for things,” Stein said.

Last month, Stein told the Freeport newspaper, The Journal-Standard, he’s most proud of the long-range comprehensive planning the district had done during his tenure, pointing to the new, 13-mile Jane Addams Trail, new park equipment and a new skate park, as well as plans for a new $677,000 administration building.

Mike Cassidy, a former recreation commissioner at Freeport, called Stein one of the best directors the district has had.

“The financial condition of the park district today can be attributed to Dennis,” Cassidy said.

An array of recreation

The Vail Recreation District, or VRD, provides the community with an array of recreational activities, including golf and many other sports activities. Under Pieters, who was hired in 1996, the district nearly doubled the number of programs offered to district taxpayers and out-of-district participants. The district’s annual budget, which includes operating the Vail Golf Course and Dobson Arena, has increased from $2 million in 1996 to nearly $6 million for 2002. The district also offers grants and scholarships for its youth programs and free programming for adult volunteers.

“I’m extremely happy to get somebody with (Stein’s) level of experience to run our district,” said Peter Cook, a member of the Vail Recreation District’s board of directors. “He comes from a rec district comparable to ours and he has lots of experience with the same kinds of facilities as we have here, like an amphitheater and multiple golf courses.

“He really fits in well with the Vail Recreation District,” Cook added.

Challenges ahead

Major changes are waiting in the wings for Stein, however, as ambitious renovations are being considered for the Vail Golf Course. Under a $5.5 million plan, the driving range would be expanded and a series of holes would be completely re-vamped, including the 17th hole. A less-extensive, $2 million project would repair only the greens on the course.

Either way, the district would have to ask its voters for a tax hike to pay for repairs and any tax hike likely would go on the ballot in May 2004.

Also waiting in the wings is talk of consolidating the Vail Recreation District with other, similar entities downvalley, such as the Western Eagle County Metro Recreation District.

Stein, who has a wife, Laura, and three girls, ages 12, 9 and 7, said he’d be in Vail this weekend to meet his new staff and to look for a place to live in the Vail Valley. He said he looks forward making a change from the plains of the Midwest to the mountains of the Colorado High Country.


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