The Town of Vail experienced numerous successes in 2016 as it marked its 50th year as a municipality.
A giant community birthday party in August provided the backdrop to reminisce about the people, the place and its future. To that end, the Town Council’s strategic goal to “grow a balanced community” included decisions on the make-up of 32 new homes that will become the new Chamonix Neighborhood at West Vail as well as adoption of an unprecedented effort to acquire 1,000 resident housing deed restrictions by the year 2027. Adding to the quality of life for community members and guests was the investment in new recreational amenities including the Zeke M. Pierce Skatepark, six new pickleball courts at Golden Peak, redevelopment of Booth Creek Park and the newly opened Golf & Nordic Clubhouse. In addition, Town Council adoption of the Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan outlines over 220 actions to be implemented to improve the health of the stream. The Town Council’s goal to “elevate the experience” got a significant boost when construction began on the I-70 Vail Underpass that will help connect the north and south sides of the community and ease traffic congestion when the project is completed in November 2017. A third goal to “enhance the local economy” saw success with a full calendar of special events which contributed to the fifth year in a row for record sales tax, albeit a leveling of growth in the past year. Perhaps most significant of all is the transition into 2017 which has been was met with a new and immediate challenge upon the announcement in November by Town Manager Stan Zemler that he would be leaving the town on March 31, 2017, after 13 years.
Examples of the many accomplishments that can be attributed to the Town Council, Zemler, the town staff and members of the community are detailed:
Sales tax collections, a vital indicator of the town’s economy and providing 40 percent of the town’s annual revenues, continued to grow, with revenues through October of $20.9 million, up 3.2 percent compared to the prior year. While this represents the fifth year in a row for record sales tax, the town has noticed a leveling off of growth in the past year. Year-to-date Real Estate Transfer collections of $6.4 million were pacing as much as 30% below budget during the year, however the sale of the Four Seasons and other high-end residential properties in December has helped to reach budget by year-end. Budgeted collections of $6.5 million are down 6.7% from the prior year.
The first-of-its-kind comprehensive on-mountain summer adventure debuted on Vail Mountain with the launch of Epic Discovery in June. The launch is considered to be a game changer in boosting Vail’s summer tourism offerings. Featured components include zip lines, canopy tours, an alpine coaster, wildlife trail exploration and interactive learn-through-play activities. The debut had been years in the making, requiring approvals from Congress and the U.S. Forest Service.
Thirty events received support from the town in 2016 with allocations of $829,000 recommended by the Commission on Special Events and approved by the Town Council. The largest allocation, $85,000, was awarded to support the GoPro Mountain Games. Highlighting the 2016 calendar was the 2016 FIPS Mouche World Fly fishing Championships in September, an Olympic level event that was held for the first time in the U.S., which received $50,000. Other notable events funded during the year included the Vail Film Festival, Vail Summer Bluegrass Concert Series, Vail Holidaze, Vail America Days™, Vail Oktoberfest™, Gourmet on Gore, Vail Kids Adventure Games, Spring Back to Vail, Vail Snow Daze, Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show, Taste of Vail, Outlier Offroad Festival and CarniVail. Also funded were a full slate of athletic events including Vail Lacrosse Shootout, King of the Mountain Volleyball, Kick-It 3v3 Soccer and Vail Valley Soccer Cup. An additional $150,000 was awarded to seven programs in a new category of education/enrichment. In addition to the events funded by CSE, the Town Council allocated $928,695 in economic development funds to support activities in the iconic event category, including Bravo! Vail, which introduced a new residency with London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, plus the Burton US Open, Vail Jazz Festival, Vail Dance Festival and Hot Summer Nights Concert Series.
Burton US Open
The 34th annual Burton US Open Snowboard Championships saw some of the world’s greatest snowboarders again converge on Vail for four days of intensive competition and family fun Feb. 29-March 5. The town again provided $400,000 in sponsorship money for the fourth year to help bring the event to Vail. The event’s return on investment included $3.9 million-plus in direct economic impact from attendees and over 866 million media impressions world wide.
Economic Impact of Events
The independent, third party economic impact survey results to date have delivered an excellent picture of the fiscal benefits the events program provides. In 2016, there was a $51 million direct economic impact to Vail’s businesses generated by 31 tracked events. In addition, these events produced a $30 economic impact payback ratio (i.e., $30 in incremental economic impact per every dollar of Town of Vail event funding). Correspondingly, there was a $1.09 tax payback ratio generated by the 31 events evaluated (i.e., $1.09 in incremental Town of Vail and Vail Local Marketing District sales taxes per dollar of town event funding).
End of Season Stimulus
To help stimulate the economy, the Town Council authorized an expenditure of $121,700 to fund end of season events, including a concert, block party and virtual reality experience after Vail Mountain announced plans to extend the ski season by one week to April 17 due to favorable snow conditions.
US Pro Challenge
In February, organizers of the US Pro Challenge announced the event had been suspended indefinitely following a five-year run, two of which included a stage hosted in Vail which attracted thousands of cycling fans. Organizers indicated they were hoping to bring the iconic race back to the mountain communities one day after securing financial backers. The event began in 2011 and was touted as Colorado’s largest sporting event, generating an estimated economic impact of $130 million across the state.
A proposal to host a music, comedy, art and mountain lifestyle event in Vail in August 2017 forwarded by the Vail Valley Foundation generated much community conversation in May. The KAABOO-Vail project envisioned use of venues in Ford Park, including the ball fields, parking lot, tennis court, soccer field and Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater to host offerings to an upscale audience. Estimated attendance for year-one was 15,000 people per day with an event goal, by year 5, to have an estimated attendance of 30,000 people per day. In the end, the Vail Valley Foundation and KAABOO withdrew its proposal for the event after concerns were expressed by community members that the scale of the event was too large for Vail.
Results of an independent audit of town financials for 2015 showed the town in a strong financial position. For the full year, government-wide revenue exceeded expenses by $17.6 million. Total reserves at the end of 2015 amounted to $80.1 million. The town has no debt for which it is responsible. Only the Vail Reinvestment Authority bonds, which are funded from incremental property tax collections within the Lionshead district, are outstanding with a balance of $9.8 million at the end of 2015.
Operation of the Welcome Centers in Vail Village and Lionshead were taken over by the town in October after a request for proposals process resulted in an impasse by the Town Council during the review process. The new town-run function replaces a management model previously serviced by an independent operator and resulted in no additional funding by the town. With transit and parking services already key functions of the guest arrival experience, the Welcome Center operations help complete the town’s role in contributing to guests’ first and last impressions.
91 new business licenses were processed by the town in 2016 including 16 new retail establishments, 55 new lodging/property management businesses, 4 food and beverage licenses, and 16 in the “other” category.
Rent by Owner
Nearly 310 rent by owner (RBO) properties obtained business licenses from the town following enactment of new regulations that became effective at the first of the year for properties renting more than 14 days per year in Vail regardless of the location of the business management office. The licensing requirement added approximately $600,000 to town revenues in both sales and lodging taxes. All short term rentals are subject to sales and lodging tax of 9.8 percent.
Fire Station 1 Remodel
A long-anticipated remodel of Fire Station 1 at 4116 Columbine Drive in East Vail began in the spring. The project increases the size of the apparatus buy to improve functionality and safety. It also includes space for firefighting equipment storage. The project added one employee housing unit, while eliminating resident firefighter dormitories which were moved to Fire Station 3 in West Vail. The finished project will also showcase landscaping which meets screening objectives while providing for sufficient fire defensible space.
Booth Creek Park Renovation
Work began in May to begin renovation of Booth Creek Park in East Vail. Construction included a complete redevelopment of the park with a new hard-surface tennis court, picnic pavilion, restroom and children’s playground.
Pickleball Courts at Golden Peak
Construction began in May to replace the existing tennis courts at Golden Peak with six pickleball courts funded by the town. The new courts opened for play in October and will be managed by the Vail Recreation District. The $1.05 million project also included construction of a unisex public restroom, drinking fountain, parking and landscape improvements.
Vail Village Transportation Center Remodel
A remodel of the Vail Village Transportation Center terminal was completed which included new floor tile, benches and painting.
Zeke M. Pierce Skatepark
The Zeke M. Pierce Skatepark was dedicated on Sept. 10 during a grand opening celebration. Designed with input from local skaters, the $1.7 million facility was constructed by California Skateparks and utilizes the space between the two parking decks at the Lionshead parking structure, not far from where a temporary skatepark was located for many years. The ribbon cutting and dedication recognized the Pierce family as well as Cameron Chaney, a former Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy student who successfully helped pitch the skatepark concept to the Town Council. Cameron’s friend, Zeke, was a lifelong resident and avid skateboarder who lost his life in a mountain bike accident just before turning 16. The skatepark is managed by the Vail Recreation District and includes features for all ages and abilities and includes a large variety of street and transition style elements. It also includes a signature wall-ride feature, mini-bowl and half-pipe. Earlier in the year, four colorful mosaics created by Washington, D.C.-based artist Valerie Theberge were installed at the skatepark, a project funded by Art in Public Places.
Vail Valley Medical Center
Vail Valley Medical Center continued to make progress on its Master Facility Plan which includes expansion and remodel of the west and east wings. The first phase of construction began in August 2015, and by year-end, the hospital had opened a newly-renovated Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and remodeled space for Howard Head Sports Medicine. Construction on the Howard Head clinic was to continue through spring 2017. The west wing entrance was scheduled to open in late 2016. Once completed, it will become the main entry to the hospital until the east wing is complete in 2020. The west wing will feature a new lobby for orthopaedic and sports medicine patients, a new space for The Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute, five new rooms in the Patient Care Unit, 10 new pre-operation rooms and eight patient care unit rooms rooms with supporting nurse stations and facilities. In addition, the hospital will build a dedicated operating room waiting area and consulting room, a new BioMotion lab and regenerative medicine research lab and a new state-of-the-art Sterile Processing Department. Once the west wing is complete, construction of the east wing of the hospital will begin in earnest and will include a new Emergency Department, relocated helipad on the medical center campus, a new main entrance to the hospital from South Frontage Road and additional parking.
Hotel Talisa, Vail
In March, a new ownership group, Laurus Corporation, announced big plans for transformation of the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa that would reposition the property as a luxury resort set to join Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Luxury Collection brand. The announcement included plans for a $50+ million renovation of the property and would continue to be managed by Two Roads Hospitality (formerly Destination Hotels). The property launched its new name and branding as Hotel Talisa, Vail and website hoteltalisa.com mid-December and is slated to open early spring 2017.
Following a multi-year construction cycle, the Lion was scheduled to open in February 2017, with its mix of residential units and street level retail space. The project adds 65 private residences, underground parking and a 4,500 square foot restaurant that will be announced in the coming months.
Renovations & Facelifts
Construction activity was bustling during the year with various renovations and facelifts throughout town. This included the newly remodeled DoubleTree by Hilton in West Vail, which replaces the Holiday Inn, exterior renovations at Vail Spa, waterproofing repairs at Arrabelle at Vail Square, completion of the Pendulum restaurant which fills the former Ore House space on Bridge Street, a facelift at McDonald’s, an expanded restaurant and bar at Pepi’s and the expansion of retail space by Christy Sports, which occupies the space vacated by Sports Authority in West Vail.
Marriott Residence Inn Special Development District
An ordinance that would authorize redevelopment of the former Roost Lodge property on the North Frontage Road in West Vail came before the Town Council as the year was coming to an end. The Council will take its first vote on the proposed Special Development District at its Jan. 3, 2017 meeting after hearing several hours of public comment on Dec. 20. The development proposal for the Marriott Residence Inn includes an extended stay hotel with 170 limited service lodge rooms. As a public benefit, the project also includes a rental apartment component including 107 deed restricted units for employee housing. Also included in the development proposal is a two-level subgrade parking structure containing 360 parking spaces, 40 in excess of town code requirements. The excess parking would be available for use by the public and local businesses. During the first public hearing, proponents said the project addresses the critical needs of mid-priced lodging, housing and parking within an infill development scenario, while neighbors testified the project was too dense and suggested the need for an overall master plan for West Vail. The Planning and Environmental Commission had voted 5 to 2 in November to forward its recommendation of approval, with conditions, to the Town Council following three review sessions.
Vail Transportation Master Plan Update
In July, community members were invited to share their thoughts about the town’s transit and transportation system as part of an update to the Vail Transportation Master Plan. The plan was originally adopted in 1993 and was most recently updated in 2009. The newest update when completed will be used to guide transportation improvements within Vail for the next 20 years.
Comprehensive Open Lands Plan Update
In December, the town kicked off of its Comprehensive Open Lands Plan Update, a months-long process that will culminate in adoption of the update by the Town Council, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2017. Open houses were scheduled to introduce the planning update and provide the community with opportunities to ask questions and offer comments on the current plan and to help identify future priorities. The Comprehensive Open Lands Plan was adopted in 1994 and has provided the town with a framework of recommended actions intended to establish a comprehensive system of public benefits, including parks, recreation, protection of sensitive habitats, trails and land to be reserved for public uses including public buildings and employee housing. More than 30 of the 52 parcels identified in the plan have either been acquired, are close to being acquired or have met the objective of the plan without acquisition. Earlier in the year, the Town Council authorized an update of the plan and directed staff to work with the community in determining which parts of the original plan have been completed, which parts are still relevant and to identify new needs based on current issues such as protection of Gore Creek water quality, recreational opportunities, including trails, as well as the potential for acquisition of sites for housing.
The managed parking program for the 2016-17 winter season included no price increases in season parking passes and value cards. There were 29 overflow days on the Frontage Road during the 150 day winter season, surpassing the town’s goal of 15 days. The Vail Village parking structure filled 42 days while Lionshead filled 29 days.
After experiencing 22 overflow days on the Frontage Road during the 116 day summer season, surpassing the town’s goal of 15 days, officials contemplated whether a future managed parking scenario should be considered for the summer, such as paid parking. The Lionshead parking structure filled 58 days while the Vail Village structure filled 32 days during the summer season. Construction worker parking in Lionshead was identified as a key contributor to the overflow.
I-70 Vail Underpass Construction
A community open house was held in February to help kick off construction of the I-70 Vail Underpass which began in April with the construction of the two new underpass bridges on I-70. By July, the bridges were complete and the lowering of the frontage roads began. This required the frontage roads to be converted to one-way traffic and detoured immediately adjacent to I-70 at the project site, along with the suspension of the West Vail Green transit route until mid-November. When the one-way traffic pattern contributed to afternoon congestion at the Town Center interchange, engineers reconfigured the Town Center underpass by temporarily adding a second northbound lane. This added 30% of additional capacity for motorists accessing the I-70 westbound on-ramp during the busy summer months. In November, the frontage roads were reopened to two lanes of travel, just in time for the start of the ski season. With the opening of the frontage roads, the project entered a shutdown phase for the winter season. The project is on schedule and was extremely productive this past year; both the westbound and eastbound underpass bridges were constructed in just 13 weeks, an estimated 70,000 cubic yards of earth was excavated to lower the frontage roads 15 feet, 25,000 square feet of retaining wall was constructed and ten different utility lines totaling 23,000 linear feet were relocated. The project will gear up again in April 2017 for the final phase, with its completion anticipated for November 2017.
I-70 Chain Station
Construction to improve the I-70 eastbound chain station began in April. The CDOT-funded project included expanding the chain station 1,500 feet to the west, construction of a retaining wall between the interstate and frontage road, upgraded lighting and water quality. In October, Vail Police and Colorado State Patrol conducted inspections of 253 commercial trucks of which only 6 did not have the required chains, for a 97.7% compliance rate.
Snow Removal Accolades
Mammoth snow removal efforts were being reported by the Public Works Department in early February after consecutive storms dropped more than two feet of snow. Daily assessments of town roads and intersections were being made to prioritize the most critically impacted areas for snow removal, cutting ice pack and hauling. Residents were thanked for their patience and understanding while crews worked to keep up and were reminded to remove hazardous ice and snow accumulations from their roofs and gas meters to keep neighborhoods safe.
Vail Valley Trails
In February, community members attended an open house to learn more about a proposed two-phase concept for alterations to the Vail Trail, a soft-surface path that would connect Golden Peak to the Vail Golf & Nordic Center. Following community feedback, the Town Council decided to put the proposal on hold until completion of the Comprehensive Open Lands Plan Update.
A pilot program allowing electric assisted bicycles on designated recreation paths for a six-month period was approved by the Town Council in June. The trial was proposed to accommodate rental equipment available at several bike shops in town and to encourage the use of environmentally-friendly modes of transportation. Once the trial concludes in January 2017, a public hearing is to be held to determine next steps.
Open House for Prospective Home Buyers
The town sponsored an open house in January for prospective home buyers to help shape decisions about the Chamonix Neighborhood housing development in West Vail. Ideas about affordability, square footage, storage, amenities, parking, outdoor areas and other desired components of the development were collected. The information would be used by the Town Council to help determine home types, home sizes and the range of affordability of the homes.
Chamonix Neighborhood Planning
Also in January, the town advertised for bids for the first phase of the Chamonix Neighborhood at West Vail housing development as it related to installation of site access and utilities. The work included construction of water and sanitary sewer mains, storm sewer improvements and conduit for dry utilities. The bid process and subsequent infrastructure installation occurred as the Town Council worked simultaneously to determine density, unit mix, product type and other components of the for-sale development. In March, the town solicited proposals for design-build construction services for development of residential housing on the parcel, netting one proposal from a local team comprised of Triumph Development, R.A. Nelson and 359 Design. In the fall, decisions were made by the Town Council on floor plans and a site plan density of 32 units as well as the deed restriction for the homes which will provide for local ownership for residents working in Eagle County in perpetuity. The Town Council also determined it would not provide additional cash subsidy to buyers of the Chamonix homes beyond the current subsidy which includes $3.6 million for land and infrastructure costs, and an estimated $2.6 million in “markup” profit savings. During the discussion, pricing estimates were being discussed ranging from the low-$400,000s to the low $700,000s with decisions on the lottery selection process to be made in January 2017.
Housing Strategic Plan 2027
With assistance from the Vail Local Housing Authority, community members were invited to several brainstorming workshops to help guide an update to the town’s Housing Strategic Plan. The plan’s adoption by the Town Council in September fundamentally shifts the town’s emphasis from construction of new housing stock to a method of acquiring deed restrictions on existing units. The plan is supported by an ongoing funding commitment and a new decision-making structure that enables the Vail Local Housing Authority to act on behalf of the town. The goal is to acquire 1,000 additional resident housing unit deed restrictions by the year 2027. The 2017 budget included $500,000 for the deed restriction acquisitions.
The plan was initially adopted in 2008 and contained strategies to help achieve a goal to provide deed restricted housing for at least 30 percent of the workforce through policies, regulations and publicly-initiated development. Since then, there have been 212 deed restricted employee housing units established in town, bringing the total number to approximately 700 units, but well under the estimated 1,400 units required to meet the 30 percent goal. During community discussions, themes included: the do-nothing option is not a viable alternative; need affordable housing for full-time residents; a dedicated funding source for housing is needed; need to better regulate short-term rentals; homes for family/full-time residents, and rentals for temporary workers are needed; density is an option as long as it is done correctly and in the appropriate locations, able to accommodate it, i.e., close to transit, amenities, shopping, etc.
The Valley Home Store
An agreement between the town and the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority was signed in June that consolidated some housing services to create a more regional approach. The agreement calls upon staff from The Valley Home Store to assist with deed restricted transactions within the town, as well as management of the town’s housing lottery program.
Real-Time Parking Information
Real-time status updates indicating the availability of public parking in Vail was being promoted during the ski season on the town’s website as well as the Vail Mountain mobile site m.vail.com. The parking count information indicates the number of open spaces in the Vail Village and Lionshead parking structures as well as employee lots at Ford Park and the soccer field. The information is updated every two minutes and indicates when the parking areas are full and when the spaces become available again.
A partnership was formed in June between the town and ResortApp to build and maintain the official vacation guide app for Vail. The new VAIL App launched in December for iPhone and Android. Features include listings for businesses, an events calendar, parking availability, custom maps of the town and the mountain, plus a nightlife, shopping and lodging guide, and an activities directory. The app has the ability to help guests navigate around town with a GPS-based navigation system and even has a feature to stay connected with friends and family.
Online Parking Portal
Access to timely parking announcements and other updates became available for season parking pass holders and other guests of the town’s public parking facilities with introduction in November of a new online parking portal at www.vailgov.com/parking. The new service also invites users to share their ideas and suggestions in an open forum facilitated by the town’s community information office.
Vail I-70 Underpass Webcam
CDOT and the Town of Vail have installed a camera to help commuters plan their drives and follow the progress of the underpass construction. Viewers are able to select the Control button on the camera to view various preset positions for a close in view of the project. I-70 Underpass Webcam.
Remembered for his love of the mountains, love of Vail and as an international mountaineering pioneer when the greater community mourned his passing in December as plans were being made to celebrate his life in February 2017. Pownall was part of the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition and the founder of Dick Pownall’s School of Mountaineering. He was one of Vail’s early pioneers, skiing Vail Mountain before there were ski lifts, and was one of the original ski instructors.