Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater plan revived

The proposed "social plaza" just outside the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater would include a fabric roof and an area where people could gather before and after events at the theater. The Town Council approved the proposal Tuesday.
Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct a quote by Vail Town Council member Ludwig Kurz.

VAIL — An updated plan for a “social plaza” at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is headed into the town of Vail’s approval process. If the plan completes the trip, work could be done next year.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday voted 5-1, with council member Kerry Donovan dissenting and fellow member Margaret Rogers absent, to send the updated plan to the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. That’s the first step in the town’s approval process.

The plaza, touted by supporters as a much-needed “lobby” for the amphitheater, was part of a package of improvements approved in 2012 by the Vail Town Council. The first phase of work was done in time for this year’s summer season at the facility. But the plaza plan encountered enough opposition from residents that the town council earlier this year withdrew its previous approval.

Since then, the Vail Valley Foundation, which runs the amphitheater, worked on a revised plan for the plaza, while town officials have started work on a new comprehensive plan for all of Ford Park that will guide future use and development there.

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During Tuesday’s hearing, foundation board chairman Harry Frampton told the council re-starting the approval process is important beyond just the amphitheater improvements. If the plaza could move through the town process during the rest of the summer into early fall, “We can start in October, then finish by June 15,” Frampton said. That would allow the foundation to put its entire focus on the 2015 World Alpine Skiing Championships, he said.

Frampton called the amphitheater “critical” to Vail’s summer economy. “There’s always something going on there,” he said.

If approved as presented, the plaza will feature a translucent fabric roof, as well as a wall telling the history of the Ford family in Vail. Those walls would face out, Frampton said, so everyone walking by could see.

While the plaza area would be open to the public most of the time, Frampton said the area would have to be closed off to only people with event tickets during concerts, dance performances and the like.

After a presentation about the project, council member Susie Tjossem said it looked as if the roof profile is lower than in the drawings first presented last year.

Pedro Campos, an architect with Avon-based Zehren and Associates, said Tjossem is right, and that the roof itself tops out at about 35 feet. The top of the covered seating at the amphitheater is about 40 feet, he said.

The project was praised by a handful of residents, including Kent Logan, who said the tent-like roof is a distinctive element.

“People will talk about it,” Logan said. “It’s worthy of Vail.”

The tent-like roof reminded longtime resident Jim Lamont of a plan in the early 1970s for a community center at Ford Park. That plan was drawn by the same architect who worked on the Munich stadium used for the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Lamont complimented Frampton and the Foundation for the revised design.

“This is a far superior element than (the first one),” Lamont said.

Council member Ludwig Kurz opposed withdrawing the approval from the plaza plan earlier this year, saying he didn’t think it was necessary.

“I need to eat a little crow tonight,” Kurz said. “In retrospect, we’re now looking at a better project.”

But Donovan, who agreed the project is better than the original, still voted against it, saying she takes a “very conservative” approach to anything new at Ford Park.

“I think this process has been worthwhile, if painful,” Mayor Andy Daly said. “But this is product I can embrace.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at

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