Success comes step at a time
In welcoming various groups and dignitaries to our town, people fundamentally want to know how did we do it?
They’re amazed by what has taken place over the past decade as they experience the vitality of Vail reflected in new and renovated buildings, public plazas, entertainment and cultural offerings, plus incredibly friendly people in a setting that respects and celebrates our natural environment. It was especially gratifying to discuss Vail’s transformation when the annual Colorado Municipal League conference was held here earlier this summer as we were wrapping up our 50th anniversary celebration. It’s a perspective we tend to overlook during our day-to-day activities, but it’s certainly worthy of reflection and community pride.
Looking back, there was no silver bullet. Our success has been shaped by incremental and well-timed private and public sector investments and decisions that have kept Vail ahead of its competitors.
These planning and leadership initiatives began in earnest 11 years ago when the Town Council, setting its sights on being the premier mountain resort community, approved a $16 million streetscape reconstruction project in Vail Village, which coincided with replacement of aging water and sewer lines by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.
Next to come was the long-awaited groundbreaking of the Arrabelle at Vail Square in 2005 by Vail Resorts Development Co., which was guided by the Lionshead Redevelopment Master Plan adopted by the Town Council in 1998. The Arrabelle was followed by no less than seven other major redevelopments, surpassing a billion dollars.
Prior to Arrabelle’s groundbreaking, the Town Council leveraged an unprecedented economic development tool by establishing an Urban Renewal Authority, now known as the Vail Reinvestment Authority, and implemented a strategy called tax increment financing that will ultimately generate an estimated $60 million in incremental taxes over 25 years for projects that have already included construction of the Lionshead Transit Center, the new Welcome Center, renovations to the Vail Public Library and the Lionshead park, plus streetscape improvements at the east and west Lionshead portals.
Also to be funded by the tax increment financing dollars will be a new entry to the Lionshead parking structure, as well as frontage road improvements, landscaped medians and potentially a new interstate crossing.
Thanks to the forward-thinking actions of Vail’s leaders, all of these projects are being constructed without establishing any new taxes. This is because over a 25 year period, tax increment financing dedicates the incremental property tax generated as a result of redevelopment in the Lionshead area to the Vail Reinvestment Authority for the purpose of providing public infrastructure improvements. Although the taxes will remain in place after 25 years, the incremental revenue, which today goes to the Vail Reinvestment Authority, will be directed to various taxing authorities such as the county, school district and town.
Another milestone I’m reminded of occurred in 2008 and continues to define our community. As Vail was reporting record sales tax collections for the year, the national recession finally caught up to us. For the first time ever, we made a decision to use economic development funds to help support a winter marketing campaign and to aggressively increase the town’s investment in the sponsorship of special events, summer and winter. These Town Council-directed decisions, along with conservative budgeting in other areas, set us on a path toward economy recovery in partnership with our businesses.
The results exceeded projections. By 2010 the town’s sales tax revenues experienced 4.5 percent growth from the year before and in 2012 the town again posted new highs in sales taxes with record collections during the months of June, July, August, September and November. Along the way, the town freed up $2 million annually for additional capital improvements when it made its last bond payment after 23 years. Additional savings have been generated by restructuring the remaining debt on the town’s purchase of Timber Ridge, which provides critical employee housing.
Our latest financial reports show each of the last two ski seasons set records with the 2012-13 season exceeding the prior year by 4.4 percent and exceeding the pre-recession 2007-08 season by 5.7 percent in sales tax collections. Early indicators for the 2013 summer season are excellent, with May through June collections up 8.7 percent from last year.
When asked what’s next for Vail, our strategies for additional partnerships and initiatives are exciting and meaningful. Given the town’s financial strength and stability, we’re continuing to plan for Vail’s future in opportunistic ways, including sponsorship of iconic events such as the time trial stage of the USA Pro Challenge today, plus the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships and, of course, the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, as well as our continuing support of cultural events including Bravo! Vail, the International Dance Festival and the Vail Jazz Festival.
Enhancing our community assets will also be an area of focus as we work to address the expansion needs of the Vail Valley Medical Center, ensure the future presence of Red Sandstone Elementary School, revisit our plans for a new municipal building and explore a refined redevelopment proposal for Timber Ridge. Our environmental initiatives will also be taking hold with a greater push for recycling throughout the neighborhoods and improvements to our streams and waterways.
Ongoing discussions with Vail Resorts will be focused on a plan for additional public parking, providing support for the Epic Discovery program and helping to facilitate an eventual groundbreaking for the Ever Vail development.
In the near-term, completion of the three conference center fund reallocation projects approved by voters in 2011 are moving forward at varying levels. This includes the first phase of improvements to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, as well as other improvements to the park, including rebuilt and expanded playing fields, new restrooms and a concession stand. The third project, renovation of the golf club-Nordic center, will also provide much needed community enhancements. A status report on these and other projects is available on our website at http://www.vailgov.com.
As I continue to reflect on the “How did we do it?” question, it occurs to me that we couldn’t have had the success we’ve experienced without the support and commitment of homeowners and other community members, past and present council members, the town staff and those well-timed private investments. As we carry this momentum of collaboration and partnership into the future, just think what our next 50 years will bring.
Andy Daly is the mayor of Vail.
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