Ferry: Vail Resorts needs to solve its own housing problem

Kaye Ferry
Valley Voices

Let’s talk about employee housing.

I’ve been on this bandwagon before some of you were born. Strangely enough, longer than most of our new young employees have been alive.

I came here during the ’87-88 ski season when you could actually rent an apartment for the ski season.

I did that for three seasons until I finally bought a place. In 1990, I started the Vail Village Merchant Association, which morphed into the Vail Chamber and Business Association. The goal was to finally give business owners a unified voice in the town decision-making process, which, of course, included housing.

During the subsequent years, I continued to be an advocate for employee housing but with an unwavering focus on solving the problem for Vail employers. After all, my plea was to the Vail government to use town of Vail resources to help solve the problem.

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What exactly does the term “resources” mean? Well, of course, it means cash. Then it means land. And one often ignored component is time — the time required by town staff to research, to plan and to attend meetings. And, need I remind you, that staff time results in town of Vail staff salaries — which also translates into money spent by the town or, better said, the town of Vail taxpayers, including Vail business owners.

Now, where I come from, all of that is worth it as long as town of Vail taxpayers and business owners are the beneficiaries.

OK, I already know the response. Vail Resorts is also a business owner. But does anyone really believe Vail Resorts does its fair share?

Vail Resorts was once a sizable lease holder of Timber Ridge. Who bought Timber Ridge? Who is about to tear it down and rebuild it? Who built Middle Creek? How many Vail Resorts employees live in Middle Creek? Who paid for those projects? Whose land are they on? The only answer you need to know is: not Vail Resorts.

First Chair is the only deed-restricted development constructed by Vail Resorts in Vail for a total of 124 beds.

That’s two beds per year for the nearly 60 years that Vail Resorts has been here. How many people does Vail Resorts employ in Vail? Add it all up, between ski instructors, lift ops, restaurant and retail workers, ski patrollers, snowcat drivers, maintenance crew, supervisors, and management. I got an estimate from a supervisor that the number is roughly 5,000 in Vail. A Vail Resorts spokesperson said it wasn’t accurate but would not say if it was too low or too high.

Vail Resorts doesn’t share that information, I was told. But it makes no difference — it’s a big number. Too many to fit into 124 beds — that’s for sure. Give me a break.

So what got my knickers in knot this week, you might ask? Remember Ever Vail? The massive project between the west end of Lionshead that was to run almost to Cascade. The property that became known as Never Vail by many of us who were sure that Vail Resorts officials never intended to follow through.

There’s an atrocious result of that fiasco. Remember the explanation of a resource? I had guessed that it cost the town around $250,000 to go through that process. I was told by a town official that I was being conservative with that estimate. Fortunately, by virtue of development agreements, the town will recoup 60-65% of that, but it still leaves a lot of money that we spent on smoke and mirrors.

Eventually, Vail Resorts let all of the permits expire on the land. Which brings me to the answer of what got my knickers in a knot this week.

I just found out that Vail Resorts is under contract to sell Cascade Crossing. I didn’t actually know where that is, or more clearly, I know where it is — I just didn’t know it had a name or what that name is. You probably don’t either, so I’ll tell you. It’s the property on South Frontage Road that previously had a furniture store, doctor’s office and endless other businesses over the years. You may know it as the current location of Chicago Pizza and Vail Salon.

It is also part of the proposed Ever Vail site which, by the way, was to include employee housing units.

There are many questions that need to be answered as the sale of this property is imminent. If 17 years ago Vail Resorts used employee housing as one of the reasons to ask the town to approve Ever Vail, why is that goal not valid today? Why has Vail Resorts not stepped up to the plate and made a commitment to address the employee housing shortage on land it owns, across the street from the signature resort the company created in order to solve a problem that Vail Resorts officials have repeatedly said is a major issue for their organization this year and the stumbling block to good and what used to be great customer service?

But the biggest question here is why have Vail Resorts officials not addressed this issue themselves? I’ll tell you why — because they have been happy to let us do their work for them.

To that, I stay enough is enough. They have the land. We know they have the resources. We also know they have created the need. Yet the real reason with them always comes down to money. They’d rather sell the property for a profit than spend it on their employees. Period — end of story.

There is no excuse, except the quest for cash, and I for one do not want one more of my tax dollars going to support the greed of a company that is more concerned with the bottom line than solving the problems it created.

So let me be clear. We are indebted to Vail Resorts. We are all here because of the greatest mountain in the world. But the group that’s running it did not start it. Some of these Vail Resorts officials have never even worked on it. Yet we have definitely benefited from it and are blessed with an enviable lifestyle because of it.

But that does not mean we cannot demand responsibility from Vail Resorts for the current housing crisis. It’s time to say no more of business as usual. It’s Vail Resorts officials’ problem to finally solve, and we have to refuse to be backed into a corner and solve it for them.

Maybe, instead of executives making so much money that they can donate it to special interest charities, they should instead reduce their salaries and spend it on the very heart and soul of what used to make this place work — their employees. Let them instead use that money for the beds they need to sleep in if they are going to work in this great magical place we all love to call home.

And please — don’t get me started on parking. That’s another column for another day.

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