What’s next for Vail’s Civic Hub?
Town to consider its options for Dobson Arena, a Cultural Hub and its Town Hall offices in 2023
In January, the Vail Town Council got together with town staff to hash out priorities for the year ahead. Coming in at No. 2 for the council members was getting serious about planning the town’s Civic Hub — starting with figuring out what to do with Dobson Ice Arena.
The town has long debated what to do with the arena, considering everything from renovation and expansion to tearing it down and rebuilding the structure. Those options were laid out in the 2019 Vail Civic Area Plan.
The facility was built in 1979, and although it has faced one addition and some small remodels in the years since, it has not had any major renovations.
“Dobson Ice Arena’s facility systems are failing and need replacement,” according to the Council’s 2023 goals matrix.
During its Jan. 17 strategic planning session, Mayor Kim Langmaid called Dobson an “emergency situation” that has to be addressed “right away.”
Support Local Journalism
Also in the mix is $36 million that the town has to spend before 2029 for public uses as part of its Urban Renewal Authority. Those funds could be used to help with the unknown, but anticipated, large price tag associated with redoing Dobson.
At the January session, the council members agreed that Dobson should be the first item addressed, both in terms of time and money.
In sticking to a deadline, the town has expressed that by Nov. 1, 2023, it would like to have a “program, budget, and critical path to renovate Dobson Ice Arena so that it will continue to serve Vail for another 40 to 50 years.”
The town is targeting for the remodel to be underway by spring 2024. Town Manager Russ Forrest said at the council’s Feb. 7 meeting that the town has begun to initiate this process.
In December 2022, the town put out a request for proposals for a design firm to work on the project. According to Forrest, the Town Council will be asked in one of its upcoming meetings to approve a design contract to kick off the planning process.
There are still a lot of unknowns with the project, however, starting with the most obvious: the price and scope of work. This includes determining whether or not the arena’s roof needs to be replaced, which Forrest called a “significant variable in the cost of renovation.”
The second unknown is how the town will maintain the availability of ice off-site while the project is ongoing, which, according to past estimates, could take at least two winter seasons.
While the council is in agreement that Dobson is a priority, there are a number of other components in the civic area that the town hopes to make progress on this year.
Specifically, Langmaid on Feb. 7 said there were three parts of the puzzle: Dobson’s “urgent redo” being No. 1, followed by getting a handle on the future of its Town Hall Site, and finally, the potential of the town’s Civic Area.
“I see them as all kind of interconnected, although some have a higher priority in terms of timing,” she said.
Town hall site
One of these components is the town’s municipal building, currently located across from Vail Health on South Frontage Road in Vail. The Town Hall offices are “at the end of their useful life and either require an investment to renovate or they need to be replaced,” according to the Council’s 2023 goals’ matrix.
Similar to Dobson, the town has a few options for the site: renovation versus relocation. And, in the event it decides to relocate the offices, the town must determine the best possible use for the existing site, including its feasibility for housing.
In evaluating its priorities, the town intends to make a determination on whether to renovate or relocate by Nov. 1, 2023. At this time, it also intends to have the most suitable locations for relocation as well as a budget and timeline for the project.
On Jan. 17, Langmaid said that this was something that can’t be looked at in isolation, but rather should be looked at in terms of Vail’s broader goals, including housing.
While the full evaluation of Town Hall has yet to be determined, there have been some discussions around moving the municipal offices to an area referred to as the “Civic Hub” in the town’s Civic Area Plan.
Located adjacent to the Lionshead Parking Garage, Vail Public Library and Dobson (which currently houses the Children’s Garden of Learning), this site has been identified as one with the potential to serve a cultural need in Vail.
Most recently, stemming from the Steward Vail process, a community group called the Vail Cultural Alliance put together a proposal to create a cultural hub on the site.
In addition to providing a new space for Vail’s Town Hall offices, the proposal contemplated a hub that would accommodate other community needs such as spaces for community gatherings, performing arts, museums, business incubators, retail and restaurants, workforce housing and more.
While Dobson is the top priority for the council within this civic hub area, it has also expressed a desire to look more at this proposal. On Feb. 7, Forrest asked for council direction on spending additional staff time to refine the conceptual design and programmatic uses of the proposal.
Specifically, he expressed a desire to facilitate a community discussion on what the priorities of such a “hub” should be, as well as determine the long-term financial sustainability of such a project, which was an idea the Council unanimously supported.
“In the four months, I’ve been listening and hearing, again, a variety of uses: some of them may have economic development focus, some of them have community utilization, which is very consistent with what you’ve heard from the Stewardship Vail Plan and the Civic Area Hub Plan,” Forrest said, adding that there was a need for “thinking critically about the space and the economics of it.”