Vail sends a message |

Vail sends a message

Don Rogers

As the by now annual bid for a conference center wends its way toward the ballot – though as usual late in the game for fall – the most practical and best-placed affordable-housing barracks site is under attack, the intricacies of snow melt under village core streets are debated with fervor, a new and pricier parking plan will surely draw some howls, and oh yeah beer at your weekly Vail Friday Night Block Party is no longer free.

We don’t mean to sound entirely jaded. In the universe defined by the distance between east and west Vails, all these are big issues and worthy of wider debate than they are enjoying now. Vail leaders may not realize this, but they are sending a symbolic message to the rest of the valley with their decisions on these topics.

There’s a note of progress we hadn’t seen before in the discussion about a conference center and the lodging community’s hands-on input in the planning so far. Still, it’s notable that the latest plan already seems to have changed locations, from the North Day Lot next to Lionshead to the roomier though more distant Holy Cross site across the frontage road. And as with the Vail Center before it, the cycle is running toward too late for a place on the ballot, if the powers that be still hope to place the question in the fall elections. May might well be the better time.

Mountain Bell, the affordable housing complex to be, so far has the appearance of a fight brewing a la the ice bubble at the golf course a couple of years back, with frankly NIMBYs piling up all sorts of absurd objections in their zeal to kill something the community needs. Just as none of the dire exaggerations proved true with the bubble, or with the logging trucks no one even wound up noticing on their way through the village before that, this affordable housing venture will play to yawns once in place. Still, the hollering before it’s built promises to be stimulating.

The idea of spending a world-class sum of $2.8 million on tubes keeping Vail Village streets free of snow is rich indeed. It would save on shoveling, the fuel for machinery to scoop the white stuff and hungover visitors’ nerves early during snowy mornings. But $2.8 million? Or $1.8 million if Vail Resorts were to kick in a million as seed money for the tubes? Surely the Town Council will think twice about this before bringing a tax increase to the ballot to fund another shift of firefighters – showing the town’s empty pockets, of course.

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The new parking plan actually makes a lot of sense, and not merely cents for municipal government. “Free after 3” is too early, especially for wily visitors who pull in after 1:30 and benefit from their first 90 minutes of free parking. Reducing the 90 minutes of free parking to 30 minutes is a mistake, though, and one the merchants would be justified in lobbying against. Even a “paltry” $2 charge for a 90-minute stay will further thin the stream of day shoppers, we suspect.

As for the block party and freebie beers hurting surrounding restaurants during Friday block parties, the ultimate message is that Vail is a little less friendly than it was last week. The internecine squabble between the local chamber leadership and restaurants that tend not to participate in initial decision-making unfortunately reinforces a downvalley image of Vail as a place something less than entirely welcoming unless you have a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket.

In sum, Vail is still struggling with its place at the head of the valley, and as head of the table, while the population of the greater valley grows – and grows more distant. In all of this a “me first” attitude pervades, or at least is picked up west of Dowd Junction.

Is this really where the town that Pete built – and no longer lived in – wants to be as that plum “destination” market continues to thin? Perhaps Vail hasn’t noticed that the population of the rest of the county has more than doubled in just the past decade. That’s a whale of a potential market that judging by the sales tax revenue, is going largely untapped.

Limiting the supply of affordable housing, parking breaks and even, yes, free beer, while tilting toward spending millions on snow melt piping and a conference center sends a symbolic message to the greater community.

Vail’s leaders would be wise to consider this all carefully, and in wider context than they are demonstrating right now.


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