Vail ‘renaissance’ upon us
Vail’s shrinking town budget has felt the pinch of downvalley competition, and the town’s sales-tax collections for 2002 were down 5.8 percent from 2001, continuing a six-year trend.
It’s been a reversal of fortune of sorts for the town that sparked the rapid growth in Eagle County since being its humble beginnings 40 years ago.
The town pared its projected $32 million 2003 budget by $800,000. Over the last three years the Town Council has regularly dipped into the capital projects budget to fund operations. But that trend may change.
Helping fuel the commercial redevelopment are interest rates at 40-year lows and municipal incentives for redevelopment.
“I think you could make a credible argument that (the “renaissance’) has in fact started,” said Vail town manager Bob McLaurin. “It’s a combination of a solid community plan, incentives and the interest rates.”
Record years in the works
Vail’s 2002 building-permit totals of $66 million were the fifth-best on record, but 2003 may set a new record that will likely be broken the next two years.
The bulk of the renaissance redevelopment construction will happen between 2004 and 2006, with project reviews occurring this and next year, town officials said. It’s going to change how Vail looks and works.
The record year for valuation of building and other building-related permits so far was 2001s $92.4 million, but Vail could receive several million dollars in building permit and other fees in the next three years as a result of the new activity, said Russell Forrest, director of community development.
At 40, Vail’s aging downtown properties and declining commercial fortune have been the target of recent municipal redevelopment initiatives and special development districts to provide developers and owners of property incentives for redevelopment. Those incentives essentially allow larger buildings, in return for funding public improvements, such as streetscapes.
It is regularly mentioned in redevelopment discussions that some commercial lodging properties in Vail still have 1970s-vintage orange shag carpet.
One of the more-visible projects last year was the $7.5 million expansion of the Vail Valley Medical Center. Another was the $12 million redevelopment and repair of the 349 room Vail Resorts-owned Vail Marriott Resort and Spa in Lionshead. It was damaged by a fire in 2000 that destroyed a portion of one wing.
Leading the way, the $17 million redevelopment of the Antlers at Vail in Lionshead was completed last year.
Vail’s building permit fees brought approximately $750,000 last year to town coffers, $100,000 more than budgeted, McLaurin said. But that money is just a one-time shot. The town needs more than that.
About 50 percent of its annual operating revenue comes from its 8.4 percent sales tax. The town is expecting to see an improvement in its financial fortune with the increased volume of business expected to be generated by the redevelopment and additional money from property taxes.
“We’re looking for sustainable, recurring revenue,” he said.
The town is expecting 2004 to be an even busier building year. Development and redevelopment plans expected for town review this year and development next will include the Tivoli Lodge, a Four Seasons being built on the Chateau at Vail site, an expansion of the Vail Mountain School, Sonnenalp Resort redevelopment, Middle Creek affordable housing and Vail Resorts’ redevelopment of its Lionshead and Vail Village slopeside projects.
The town itself will be working on a phased, $10 million downtown streetscape project featuring heated streets on Bridge Street, beginning this spring.
More planners needed
The expected flood of redevelopment, as much as $800 million over the next four years, has the town envisioning supplementing its planning staff with contractors, said Forrest.
“We’ll most likely see a record year for planning applications and are expecting this to produce a record year for construction activity in 2004,” Forrest said.
That activity is expected to peak in 2005-06, he said. “You should see lots of public and private improvements on-line in 2005.”
“Even if we only see half of that $800 million that’s being talked about, that’s a lot,” said Vail town councilman, pioneer and owner of the area’s largest real estate company, Rod Slifer, who saw development of the first buildings in Vail.
Vail Resorts is a key player in Vail’s future with as many as six projects valued at $300 million in Vail and Lionshead.
One of the first projects expected to work through the review process this year is Vail Resorts’ $75 million Front Door project next to the Vista Bahn. It will bring 16 fractional-fee slopeside units, as well as underground loading and parking and a new look to the Vista Bahn area. Another village project in the works is the parking lot, across from the Christiana Lodge.
Redevelopment issues are typically more complicated than development of open ground. The Front Door project, for example, has an additional complicating factor: It hinges on a proposed land swap in which Vail Resorts would give the U.S Forest Service 296 acres elsewhere for up to three slopeside acres. That swap needs to receive approval from the Forest Service.
Slifer said Vail Resorts’ redevelopment of Lionshead and the Old Gondola Building is also complex because of its location in the heart of Lionshead’s commercial core. That could be the most expensive of Vail’s redevelopments to date, he said.
The town will be getting into the act, too, once it decides where and when to build a conference center. It was given a mandate from voters in November to fund a $46 million, 40,000-square-foot facility by levying higher sales and lodging taxes. The town and Vail Resorts are negotiating on a 6-acre parcel just west of Lionshead the company has pledged to the town.
The Vail Valley Medical Center, meanwhile, is planning its next expansion, coordinating redevelopment with the Evergreen Lodge. That will create a new entrance for the hospital from the Frontage Road, reducing vehicle traffic along Meadow Drive and making “Vail’s Main Street” more pedestrian-friendly.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.