Vail Valley Voices: Focus on Ever Vail
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report in February. We plan to publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town.
Need for a third portal: There are some who are beginning to ask for remedies for today’s challenges that are reminiscent of those used in the 1970s. Their voices can be heard calling for a slow down in development. In response, the Town Council has taken steps to slow down the Ever Vail development review process, which has been under way in one form or another since 2004.
Located in West Lionshead, Ever Vail is a proposed commercial town center on 12 acres to be served by a new up-mountain gondola. The council is having discussions about the wisdom of approving a third portal to Vail Mountain at this time.
Community’s business model changing: There is a perspective that questions the viability of the community’s business model based on an average 1.6 million skiers annually, a model that has stood for the past two decades. The core consideration is whether the composition and economic productivity of the “new normal” skier population can sustain the number of businesses now in the community. Many Vail business owners say that the public and others just don’t understand how difficult it is to stay in business nowadays under usual circumstances, let alone during a major downturn.
Ever Vail should help, not hurt: The question from them is, how will Ever Vail help and not hurt them? They are concerned that some executives at Vail Resorts are not as concerned as they should be with the possibility of creating more competition for Lionshead and Vail Village.
The local business community would prefer that Ever Vail reinforces their strengths rather than set in motion the “Wal-Mart effect” (corporate discounting competing with local businesses). Because of the continuing economic storm, they want Vail Resorts to be latched together with the local community on the same life raft.
Company consultants have produced an Ever Vail economic report for Vail Resorts that they say proves that a new portal will do no harm.
Others are asking for more detailed documentation and proof. The town of Vail is retaining their own consultants to study the economic and other impacts upon the community and its infrastructure, such as parking.
Vail Resorts believes that the Ever Vail parking plan will resolve the community’s endlessly increasing demand for public parking. The Ever Vail parking study will be considered after the town adjusts for potential shortcomings in its public parking policies and standards.
The council has requested an investigation into the implication of raising the “lift ticket tax” paid by Vail Resorts and used for the operation of the Vail shuttle bus mass-transit system.
Vail NIMBY’s of a different stripe: Vail Resorts says it will solve the community’s parking problem, yet there are those in the community that do not want the company to have independent control of public parking, for competitive reasons.
The more extreme propose that the town should use Ford Park to build parking rather than approve Ever Vail.
Quality of the Vail experience: The potential for a long-term shift in the composition of the Vail skiing population has already taken place.
The town’s winter parking demand model, prior to the advent of the Epic Pass, assumed a 75 percent-25 percent split between destination and day visitors. Town officials report that since the Epic Pass, the split has been reversed.
This reversal is reflected in the decline of the town’s sales tax
The Epic Pass, while averting a free fall in consumer demand, has caused many in the Vail community to raise concerns about diminishing the quality of the Vail experience, on-mountain and otherwise.
Keeping the customer experience and marketing image in balance: Some are beginning to take a closer look at the quality of the customer experience.
They see factors such as increasing the density of skiers per acre as critical to maintaining a qualitative experience on Vail Mountain. A back-of-the-envelope comparison of Vail Resorts’ Colorado resorts puts skiers per acre for Vail at 3.8, Beaver Creek at 4.3 and Breckenridge at 9.6. They question how much new commercial and residential development the mountain can support under conditions of the new normal.
There are those who believe that the skier density on Vail Mountain could be raised with no adverse effects to 4.9. Others ask if Vail’s existing resort centers can support such an increase.
Importantly, both Vails, the mountain and the town, need to deliver on the international image of exclusivity that Vail Resorts’ market branding professes. Currently, there is a disconnect between the two, which needs to be remedied.
A step in the right direction was taken by Winter Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn when she showcased the assets of both Vail Mountain and the town in a lengthy pre-Olympic interview on the NBC television network.
Ever Vail in perspective: Historical precedent says that there will be no resumption of the town’s desire to continue its community-wide redevelopment initiatives without Vail Resorts first creating the catalyst by beginning their own projects. Once Vail Resorts begins, competitive developers have confidence to also jump into the market with their own projects.
Some say Vail is fortunate to have Vail Resorts, particularly when compared with the difficulties some other major resort companies are confronting. They believe the company’s strategy for Ever Vail is correct because of the nearly decade-long lead time it takes to bring online a project of this magnitude.
It is now apparent that some Vail power players, before giving carte blanche approval to Ever Vail, are looking for an affirmation that the community’s business model is still operative under “new normal” economic conditions.
There are those who say that with no specific date to begin construction, the town has no assurance that the proposed plan will be appropriate to meet the community’s changing needs.
One perspective wants to revisit the Lionshead Master Plan with an eye to reducing density. Others are looking for unique amenities that will cause all boats to rise. It is difficult to know what the community wants because it has consistently failed to come to a consensus driven agreement about its vision for the future.
Other Ever Vail outstanding issues: There remain several issues that have yet to be resolved.
One of the most vexing is what to do with the existing sewer-treatment plan that is situated in the heart of the project. According to water and sewer district authorities, no acceptable options have been found.
Others say the company should not be held hostage to unreasonable or opportunistic demands by the district.
Still other critics believe that the community needs more diversity, like unique amenities that the community doesn’t already have, which will draw in destination guests. They say that the town has allowed too many large hotel and condominium projects that are clones of each other.
Critics complain that the phasing strategy of development does not deliver affordable housing in tandem with job generators such as hotels and other commercial enterprises.
People may not be listening. The company has a strategy to deliver affordable housing as the project is built. It will be the only urban center in Vail where locals’ housing is integrated throughout the development.