Vail Daily column: Election will help set Vail’s course
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association newsletter. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Vail’s municipal government may be about to enter a major transition. This fall’s Town Council election could bring a new tone to Town Hall and there could be significant organizational changes that may include some of the town’s senior executives. At the same time, the town’s vigorous rebound from the recession has set the stage for a potential reassessment of Vail’s future. The outcome of this year’s election will speak volumes about Vail’s course in the coming years as well as to how inclusive and transparent the town of Vail intends to become. Unfortunately, the way in which that election is going to be conducted — a short campaign period followed by an election with restrictive absentee-only mail balloting — is not a step in the right direction. As an investigation by the association showed, full mail balloting greatly increases voter participation.
In recent years, it has appeared to the Vail Homeowners Association that major cracks are occurring at several different junctures in what used to be a vibrant community that was devoted to making Vail the best that it could be. Part-time residents have never had the ability to engage in the town’s local governance through the ballot box, but in recent years, it seems their voices have been increasingly disregarded or pushed aside creating an “us-against-them” gap in community relations. Vail seems to be losing sight of the fact that, in great part, it is those residents’ property investments, taxes and philanthropy that gives the community value, uniqueness and authenticity.
The character of the community has also been changing as Vail has shifted from being a resort community towards being a retirement community. With all of its positives, the natural environment, cultural outlets and spirit, Vail’s population has been aging as many turn toward Vail as an ideal place to retire. There are subtle but real differences between resort and retirement communities. These differences are just now beginning to become significant factors in the community’s perception of itself and its future.
Vail’s marketing, however, does not reflect these demographic shifts. The financial necessities of the recession caused the town of Vail and Vail Resorts to merge their economic development agendas into a joint mass marketed effort to increase tourism as they turned away from sustainable tourism as the centerpiece of the well-being of the community and economy. Mass-marketed, transactional branding began with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and now permeates Town Hall through its emphasis on special event promotions that attract mostly day visitors. This summer’s need for overflow on-street parking is just one indicator of how far that shift has gone. And, with the number of Epic Passes now being sold, Vail could be one good snow year away from overcrowding on the mountain and all that brings in terms of skier safety and enjoyment.
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Vail Resorts put even greater emphasis on mass marketing this past year when it dismantled its real estate development division. Since the beginning of Vail, the company’s development projects have been the impetus behind the steady expansion of Vail’s high-end market for destination guests and part-time residents. The destination market is key to the success of sustainable tourism, but that requires investment in infrastructure, like parking, that seems to be lagging or even lacking. The focus of an impersonalized bottom-line orientation seems counter to all that made Vail great and what attracted the high-end destination guests and part-time residents in the first place.
There is also the vision question, something that the association has been attempting to address this past year. Major changes are taking place in Vail. The Vail Valley Medical Center is redeveloping its facilities which should bring needed infrastructure improvements although they are still years away because they have been pushed off to the end of the project. Other development projects, which could refresh the town, are in the offing. Momentum is again growing for a civic and cultural center.