Vision of a better Vail
While I have always found it difficult to write, I also find that it is very helpful in clarifying “conflicting” views in my own mind. Case in point: Why do you want to run for a Vail Town Council seat in 2003?
Retired, approaching 60, the only thing I really want in my “golden years” is to be “loved and left to my own desires.” However, in more serious moments of self-reflection, I must confess that I love Vail and sincerely hope that I can make a difference at what I believe is a critical time in the evolution of our community.
I first visited Vail in the 1970s as a skier; Vicki and I were married on the top of the mountain 18 years ago by Buck Allen; and when I retired four years ago, we moved here permanently. So, I’ve seen the town during the heyday of the boom in skiing, the bust of the oil crisis and Mexican peso devaluation, and then the recovery in the 1990s with the amazing growth of the downvalley communities.
Therefore, it was with great sadness that I read the results from the survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in March 2003, “Key Findings from Qualitative research Among Voters in the Town of Vail.”
I summarize some of the key findings – we should all sit up and take notice:
n “The Town Council and town government is viewed with skepticism regarding its fiscal responsibility.”
n “The Town Council is seen as not having a vision and not demonstrating leadership in creating a plan for the future of the town. The council and government are seen as studying issues for years but never coming up with decisive plans and then having to flit from crisis to crisis.”
n “There is a strong feeling that “more fat’ could be cut.”
n “There is a strong distrust of how the town spends its money and has been excessive in it spending.”
Now, I’m no rocket scientist, but if your children came home from school with a report card like that, I daresay it would not be “business as usual.”
To me that is what this election is all about – regaining hope, trust and confidence.
It is not about “the same old faces.” It is, however, about change – thoughtful, pragmatic, compassionate, decisive, constructive change. The good news is that we can control that if we act NOW! The Vail economy (as we all know) is undergoing change, partly cyclical, but more importantly, the change is structural and permanent.
The importance of our construction-building boom of the past decade has peaked and will continue to decline. The retailing scene in Vail Village is less than exciting. Revitalization and new initiatives are a must – further delay will cause the current stagnation to begin to spiral downward. What can we do? For starters, fix the economy:
1. Eliminate outdated, unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy.
2. Prioritize programs/expenditures designed to increase near-term sales tax revenues.
3. Aggressively explore remedies to eliminate empty store fronts.
4. Beef up and coordinate Vail’s marketing/advertising programs.
As important as re-energizing the town economy is in a cyclical sense, that in and of itself is not a “vision.” A vision is the big picture. What do we want Vail to look like in 10 years, or even 20 years?
I outline my hopes below, but let me quickly add that I do not remotely have all the answers.
Frankly, I don’t even know all the questions! That’s where I need your help. I can start the process, but we all need to contribute to a shared vision – our vision – of a new Vail for the 21st century. To me, there are four pillars to this new vision:
1. Re-create a sense of community.
2. “Rebuild” the core (Vail Village) and rebuild the town infrastructure.
3. “Repopulate” the town.
4. Reorient town government so it is efficient and responsive to its citizens.
Let me elaborate on each briefly. First, we need to re-create a sense of community.
Cohesiveness, not divisiveness, should be our goal. We argue about extremes – “pro-business,” “pro-community,” “pro- or anti-Vail Resorts” – and try to label individuals accordingly when the real answer lies in the middle. We just need leadership to get there.
I believe we are a community first and a resort second (but a very close second). Vicki and I live here – we’re not on vacation, and moreover, I don’t work for Vail Resorts and I have no business ties here.
To the council’s credit, I think the recent investments such as Donovan Park, the Middle Creek affordable housing project, the purchase of Timber Ridge, the Intermountain Park upgrades, Buffehr Creek Park, Ellefson Park, Vail Commons and day-care center all speak directly to that commitment to community which should be maintained.
Equally important, however, we need to forge a better working relationship with Vail Resorts and embrace them as a true partner. Not only are they the largest employer in town, but they have also made a commitment to invest over $500 million in the Lionshead redevelopment and Vail Front Door projects over the next five years, which is the key to our future economic development. One of our first priorities must be to get this right.
Second, we need to rebuild the core (Vail Village) and rebuild the town infrastructure.
We all know the town is aging and needs a face-lift. What we don’t have is a master plan – how does each project (which the council seems to debate interminably) fit into a bigger picture? And we need to prioritize, and we need to make sure the money is being spent wisely.
Whatever the specific issue – the conference center, the streetscape project, a new parking level on the Lionshead structure, dealing with I-70 noise abatement for East Vail residents, a new transportation hub, more public restrooms – these must be pulled together in a comprehensive plan for public discussion, NOW!
Third, we need to repopulate the town.
Over 65% of the 7,000 property owners in Vail are second-home owners. We need to bring them back, give them a reason to come back more often. Interestingly, nearly 2,000 of the second-home owners live in Denver or the Front Range, only 100 miles away. But we do a poor job of advertising the full calendar of events going on here each month of the year. Bringing this group back to Vail should be one of our highest priorities. This could be the near-term key to economic stimulation in the shoulder seasons.
Marketing our cultural activities calendar, our active lifestyle, our summer climate to retirees in Arizona or Florida who must go somewhere; marketing our first-class medical/hospital infrastructure to the post-war baby boomers that are now graying; promoting our unparalleled mountain biking and white water kayaking/rafting. All should be beefed up NOW! We cannot spend enough on a more sophisticated, targeted marketing/advertising campaign!
Fourth, our town government needs to be more responsive to its citizens.
The frustrating, aggravating bureaucracy and outdated, nonsensical regulations need to the right-sized. Fat must be cut from the budget, but with compassion. The budget should be balanced; we cannot continue to spend more than we take in. And the budget should be returned to the Town Charter mandated 50%-50% ratio (50% for operations, 50% for capital projects) so that we have enough money to rebuild our infrastructure and market our vision.
Finally, we should demand two things from the Town Council – NOW!
1. Establishment of a resident “311 hotline phone number” for complaints and suggestions with a mandatory five-day follow-up response.
2. An annual “State of Town” report should be delivered beginning in January 2004.
In a general sense, we should demand that this November’s election is about clearly outlined policies, not personalities! If not, we risk another round of inaction, deadlock and frustration.
In fact, I believe the highest priority of the new council should be to bring all the Vail community together – enough of the divisiveness and petty vindictiveness. Our goal should be progress through mutual respect and cooperation!
And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be nice to rekindle the passion and spirit of the founders of Vail? I for one am excited about what we can do together, and frankly, I am tired of being told what we can’t do. The real question for everyone this fall is identifying those candidates who are independent, objective and can think broadly about the big picture rather than representing just one narrow point of view.
Now I’m no poet, but if I had one phrase that captures my hope for Vail’s future, it would be:
“It’s majestic, it’s spiritual, it’s safe – it’s Vail and it’s ours!”
Let’s get excited again!