Vail Daily column: Lots of concerns about Skier Building
Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.
In my last commentary, I shared my concerns with the town of Avon’s regrettable plans to purchase the Skier Building and move the current Town Hall to that location.
I am speaking as a 30-year resident of the town with a lot of experience in development as a member and chairman of the town Planning and Zoning Commission, vice president of Vail Resorts Development Co., and consultant in real estate development and property management. I have no personal interest in the Skier Building, nor any clients interested in the building.
Last time, I focused on the existing Town Hall. Today, here is a summary of thoughts about the Skier Building:
• During my tour with the mayor, town manager and Councilman Buz Reynolds, I shared some history pertaining to the Skier Building as I understand it. The building was constructed approximately 14 years ago by Starwood as an appeasement to the town to get permission to build the Sheraton Time Share building first, before building the Sheraton Hotel component. Forty-four parking spaces were mandated by the town at that time to support the future occupants of the Skier Building. These spaces were built in the structure under the Sheraton time share building.
• It is my contention that Starwood never intended to occupy the building, as they were opposed to the forced inclusion of “ground-floor retail” by the town in an area that could not support profitable retail activity and also because they could benefit from the use of the 44 parking spaces if the Skier Building remained vacant. Therefore, the building was constructed to minimum standards required at that time. Structural capacity on the upper floors is limited. Minimal water and electrical capacity were delivered to the building. The building requires repairs and maintenance after sitting empty for the past 14 years.
• My former employer, Vail Resorts, attempted to purchase the Skier Building from Starwood on two occasions without success. In approximately 2002, the transaction failed because structural capacity of the second and third floors was not capable of supporting the necessary live loads to accommodate the intended office use, including file cabinets. Another attempt was made in approximately 2006 for the purpose of relocating the Water and Sewer District offices from Lionshead to Avon. This second potential transaction failed because the town was not willing to rezone the ground floor of the building to allow office occupancy. Under previous and current zoning, office occupancy is allowed on the second and third floors but the ground floor can only be occupied as retail.
• I conducted a thorough inspection of the facility during each of these negotiations, utilizing the services of a variety of experts and recall that there were concerns about the design and condition of the building on each of those occasions. In each case the mandated parking was to be a part of the purchase, as the town would not permit the building to be occupied without the availability of dedicated parking.
• The town manager stated that the Master Plan for this part of Avon calls for the relocation of Town Hall to this area. The referenced plan was adopted in 2007, which was at the end of the last real estate development boom. The attitude in 2004-07 when this document was prepared was certainly distorted by a belief that real estate revenues and property values would continue to escalate. I doubt that the authors of the plan nor those who voted to adopt it were aware of the deed restriction on the Town Hall property! It would be prudent for the town to update the Master Plan to reflect current realities.
• The town manager shared that she had implemented a “managed parking” policy whereby skiers were encouraged to park in the west part of Avon for up to five hours. With skiers taking up limited parking close to the library, the recreation center, Nottingham Park and Town Hall, patrons of those public amenities are expected to park remotely and walk up to five minutes to their destination.
• The town manager confirmed that the town would be purchasing the building without the assigned parking and that the adjacent 35 space parking lot, which is owned by the town, would be available to support the uses in the Skier Building. We discussed the flawed reasoning of the town using its adjacent 35-space parking lot to support the occupancy of the building, specifically: There are not enough spaces in the adjacent lot to meet the original commitment of 44 spaces; the current Town Hall requires 55 spaces to function today; and these spaces will be essential to support the future retail shops planned on the mall. The town manager then said that she would keep the parking lot open to patrons of Town Hall by forcing her employees to park at the recreation center, or elsewhere within a five-minute walk from the Skier Building. Are there really 55 unused spaces at the recreation center? I believe that there is a shortage of parking in this part of our town, which will be exacerbated if the town proceeds with the planned purchase of the Skier Building without the inclusion of the assigned parking.
• I believe the town will pay too much for the building, even though the purchase price might be “below replacement cost.” The correct method for valuing commercial real estate is on the basis of revenue potential and not replacement cost. Without the parking being included in the acquisition, the current value of building is no more than $1 million.
• Only minimal due diligence had been conducted until recently when some difficult questions were raised.
• I have no confidence that the town will be able to contain the total cost of this project any better than they did on the pavilion project. The previous council demonstrated poor judgment and naivete, resulting in the squandering of taxpayer money. There are certainly lessons to be learned from the embarrassment experienced on the pavilion project. Before another town project is embarked on, someone needs to be held accountable for the failure known to all as the pavilion project.
• The public was not asked to vote on the decision to purchase the Skier Building but is now being asked to vote on the town incurring long-term debt to finance the purchase and completion of the building, but only because some of my fellow citizens forced them into the referendum process. The mayor told several of us that if the referendum did not pass, she would take it as a sign to not purchase the Skier Building. The town manager’s response when I asked this same question was “I would proceed to purchase it with cash.” This begs the question as to who is actually in charge.
Jack Hunn is a resident of Avon.