Vail Daily column: Is more really better?
Editor’s note: The following is a report from the Vail Homeowners Association. 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
For several years there has been growing concern about community congestion, both in the town and on the mountain. Many believe that overcrowding in Vail has been caused by the need to increase sales tax revenues and the resulting commercialization of the Vail experience. At the same time, there is increasing concern that the commercialization of Vail has caused a shift of town priorities from quality of life to the business of doing business. Considerations of increased sales tax revenues and more jobs seem to be driving many decisions. This is an issue that has been building for many years and underlies much of what is happening in critical decisions facing the community.
In a prescient muse, in 2006, Ski Magazine questioned whether the Vail Renaissance, then in full throttle, could propel Vail from a rustic, small-town resort into a mass-marketed mega-resort. That has largely happened as real estate based revenues tanked as a result of the Great Recession and Vail became increasingly dependent on sales taxes, which required boosting visitor numbers. To achieve those numbers, Vail has progressively turned to mass-marketed special event activities.
This is evident in the town’s budget. Town expenditures, which were traditionally at a 50/50 ratio of operational costs versus capital investment, have shifted to a 70/30 ratio with town spending on special events doubling since 2006. Now the town’s post-2015 economic strategies place an even greater emphasis on special events aimed at the American Millennial and Gen X age groups, perhaps even expanding those events to midweek dates or by developing more mass event venues. To some, Vail seems locked in a cycle of dependency that only leads in the direction toward more congestion.
There is no question that sales tax revenues have increased but not all agree that the wholesaling of the Vail experience through mass-marketed promotions and special events has resulted in a qualitative improvement that benefits the entire community. At the beginning of the ski season, readers of Ski Magazine gave Vail poor scores for customer service and authenticity. Many are concerned that the qualities that made Vail famous — a sense of community, a tranquil mountain life and unsurpassed skiing — are being lost to the success of Vail’s commercialization strategy. They believe that Vail runs the danger of diluting the Vail experience to the point where customer loyalty is irreparably damaged. At a time when Vail’s competition is only a “click” away, being perceived as congested, over-priced and unauthentic can make it a long, slow climb back to the top.
Earlier in 2014, Vail adopted a two-year action plan. Unfortunately it encompasses almost every issue, problem or action facing the town, all of which are given equal weight, so that, for instance, actions to deal with Gore Creek pollution stand on equal footing with building a permanent skateboard park. The plan contains a lot of “assess, review, research, analyze and develop” for issues that are not new and there are no priorities for action. Congestion and overcrowding are not even mentioned.
VHA realizes that questioning a “more-is-better” approach in the complacency that often accompanies commercial success is difficult. There is little incentive to critically examine the consequences. But VHA believes that it is time to put quality over quantity, to throttle back on special events — in particular those that only appeal to day visitors — and to invest in projects that will directly improve the quality of life for the entire community. At the very least, these issues should be at the forefront for consideration.