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Aron touts new $4 million lift at Breckenridge

Jim PokrandtSummit Correspondent

Vail Resorts chief Adam Aron said the new $4 million Peak 8 Summit lift is his priority for Breckenridge Ski Resort improvements, and construction could begin next summer.If the board approves, the lift would open access to 500 acres of intermediate to advanced terrain that now requires a hike above the treeline.Aron also said a hot real estate market would speed construction of other projects, including the proposed Skyway Skiway and the gondola.The Skyway, a ski-back run from Peak 8, would allow skiers and boarders to get to the in-town, day-use parking lots without lining up for buses.The gondola would carry customers up the mountain to Peaks 7 and 8 without taking buses in the first place.Speaking to Town Council members Tuesday, Aron said plans are in the works to knock down the Village at Breckenridge Hotel and construct a more attractive facility.He said the weathervane for the speed of ski-area improvements will be how well sales go this winter for the second phase of construction at Mountain Thunder Lodge on Park Avenue.Up to this point, he said the Summit County real estate market has been too soft to sell real estate.He said 34 units will hit the presale market next month.”It is clearly a case that now we are testing the water here in Breckenridge,” Aron said. “We’ll see what the market tells us.”The Skyway Skiway does not have to be built until 2008, but Aron said if an earlier start helps induce sales at Mountain Thunder, possibly raising prices, he could be built in two years.At the same time, if sales go well, Aron said plans could advance to begin work on new base villages at Peaks 7 and 8. He also said a preference is emerging in the company to focus first on Peak 8, possibly starting first with the 150-unit Grand Lodge.The town has already approved development at Peaks 7 and 8.Aron said the Grand Lodge could become a time-share facility that produces high turnover and hot beds, if ongoing negotiations with national chains are fruitful.He said negotiations cover projects at a number of the company’s resorts.While Aron did not peg real estate sales to construction of the Summit lift, he said the cost of a gondola requires the linkage. The gondola, he said, would cost between $20 million and $24 million once amenities are built around it. “That’s a lot of money for our company,” Aron said.Actual gondola costs are pegged at about $14 million, a price going up for the European-made tram with the decline of the dollar against the euro.The town is committed to paying $6 million of the gondola cost, but Aron said that isn’t enough to divorce the project from the real estate umbilical cord.He said he’s open to new solutions to financing.In the meantime, the market is the master, he said, and if sales are good, he anticipates taking the “Upper Village” to market as early as Christmas 2005.Aron said the Upper Village is his working title for development at the bases of Peaks 7 and 8. A better name will be selected.He said the costs of building Peaks 7 and 8 would be a quarter-billion dollars, a fact which calls for a good understanding of the real estate market.Because of the infrastructure costs, Aron said if real estate improves, but not enough to start work on the Upper Village, the company could turn its attention first to redoing the Village at Breckenridge Hotel, which would cost between $20 and $30 million.In no one’s mind, including Aron’s, is the Village at Breckenridge located at the base of Peak 10 and bordering Park Avenue an architectural masterpiece.”It’s just night and day what that land can be turned into,” Aron said. “It’s highest and best use would be to knock it down and replace it with something far more attractive.”Neighbors and the town council would get their say on the project, he added.Aron spoke almost 90 minutes before the town council. Mayor Ernie Blake lobbied Aron to make the appearance.The visit comes on the heels of community disappointment this summer to learn Vail Resorts was not fast-tracking the gondola.”Our enthusiasm to make stuff happen maybe incorrectly conveyed that the gondola was a slam dunk and happen right away,” Aron said. “But $20 million is a lot and we have to find the money.”


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