Winter in Vail, and the parking is … easy?
VAIL, Colorado – Almost since the first gondola crept up Vail Mountain, the town has talked about two big issues – housing and parking.
Over the years, both have always been tight, but that chronic shortage may have a temporary reprieve, especially in the town’s parking structures.
After years of the structures filling on virtually every busy weekend, they didn’t come close to filling during the Thanksgiving holiday, despite reports of good crowds in town. The difference lies in both supply and demand.
The new Solaris project in Vail Village added more than 300 public parking spaces to the town’s inventory. The center’s developers set the prices there, but at the moment a day of parking at Solaris is cheaper than a day in one of the town’s structures.
Beyond the paid parking, the town has over the last couple of years added around 200 spaces of free parking in outlying areas, so skiers can park there, then take a bus to either Vail Village or Lionshead.
On the demand side, Vail’s big construction projects are virtually complete, meaning that the workers who once took up significant amounts of structure space aren’t coming to town anymore.
The result, at least so far this season, is that Vail doesn’t look like a town with a parking crisis. Being relatively flush with parking this season means town officials have some time to consider what Vail’s real demand for parking might be in the years to come.
“We knew this year would be a test year with the loss of the construction workers,” Vail Town Council member Margaret Rogers said. “This year’s going to tell us a lot.”
But the loss of those paying customers means town officials are also keeping a close eye on revenue, since the parking structures are supposed to pay their own way in the town’s budget.
While Rogers said the town is looking hard at all of its revenue, Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said he’s not particularly worried the budget impacts from one season.
“We’ve budgeted for this,” Cleveland said. “We have $20 million in general fund reserves and we haven’t had to tap them yet.”
Cleveland said he’s anxious to see what this season brings.
“We’ve been trying to get to a picture of what the real parking needs are for years,” he said.
Those needs will also show up in parking along South Frontage Road. The town and the Colorado Department of Transportation have for years had an agreement for the maximum number of days frontage road parking is allowed, and the town for the last several years has gone far past that number.
“We’ve been gnashing over frontage road parking for years,” Cleveland said. “The real problem is if nobody’s parking on the frontage road.”
While parking is relatively plentiful this season, town parking and transportation manager Mike Rose said there should be plenty of cars parked on South Frontage Road this weekend, thanks to the Vail Snow Daze concerts. Those shows are expected to draw big crowds, and the 200 or so parking spaces at Ford Park won’t be available.
While this season will show town officials a lot, it’s still far, far too early to see any trends developing.
“There won’t be any really substantial numbers until Christmas,” Rose said. “And we’ll know a lot more in April.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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