Vail renaissance or the ‘dark ages’? | AspenTimes.com

Vail renaissance or the ‘dark ages’?

Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Construction continues at The Penthouses at Manor Vail. (Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily)

VAIL ” Some call it Vail’s renaissance, but Councilman Kevin Foley said he thinks the town is headed for the “dark ages.”

“If they’re building all this stuff, what kind of renaissance are you going to have if you don’t have employees to staff all this stuff we’re building?” Foley said, adding that tourists are skipping Vail when they see all the construction here.

Foley said he didn’t expect Vail’s building spurt to be as large as it has become. The “billion-dollar renewal” could be worth more than $3 billion if planned projects move forward.

Since 2002, some $1.4 billion in construction has been approved in Vail. Other projects loom, including the $1 billion Ever Vail village and the $600 million Lionshead parking structure redevelopment.

Others, though, remain optimistic about all the rebuilding going on in Vail, saying the facelift was badly needed.

“If the village of Vail was going to keep up with the ski mountain, we certainly had to look to the future,” said Steve Rosenthal, owner of Colorado Footwear, a Vail Village business. “It had to happen.”

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Business in Vail hasn’t been as good recently as business at his Beaver Creek store, Rosenthal said, something that he attributes, at least partially, to construction.

But Rosenthal sees the light at the end of the tunnel. For him, it’s 2009, when several large project are supposed to be completed, including Solaris, the Four Seasons and the Vail Front Door.

He hopes Solaris will be a focal point for Vail Village. The development will have an ice-skating rink, a bowling alley, a movie theater, stores and restaurants.

Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager, separates the building boom into three phases. The first phase, including projects like One Willow Bridge Road, the Tivoli and the Vail Plaza Hotel, is complete. One of the most disruptive projects to pedestrians, Vail’s streetscape project, is largely finished.

The second phase, including projects like Solaris, the Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton and the Front Door, are under way.

The final phase are those big projects that are planned: Ever Vail and the Lionshead parking structure.

Things ebb and flow, and history dictates that the construction will slow down eventually, Zemler said.

“But that doesn’t appear to be the case right now,” Zemler said.

Through the construction, sales-tax revenue, Vail’s biggest money-maker has remained high, with the town setting records for collections in 2006, 2005 and 2004.

“I think obviously a lot of this is driven by real estate,” Zemler said.

Across Eagle County, real estate continues to set records. Last year’s $1.46 billion in transactions was a record, and this year through July, sales are exceeding that pace by 20 percent.

Cathy Miskell, a real estate agent for Sonnenalp Real Estate in Vail, said she sees no let-up in demand for high-priced real estate.

Before the recent building spurt, customers would clamor for new product, she said.

“I would have buyers who would want to buy and look around and say, ‘I want something newer and fresher,'” she said.

That demand for something new is still there, she said. For instance, some buyers walked into her office on Saturday, and their faces “lit up” when Miskell told them about Solaris, which includes new condos.

In Vail’s community survey taken earlier this year, 32 percent of respondents said they were “very excited” about all the improvements occurring in Vail, while 23 percent said they were “not excited.”

Mark Gordon, a Vail councilman, said this is the tail end of the renaissance.

“When you add up what’s available for renewal and what’s going on in the international markets and mortgage markets, at this point, I think we’re seeing the tail end,” he said.

With the streetscape project largely completed, the rest of the projects won’t be as visible because they will be behind construction fences, Gordon said.

“I think the most construction fatigue we’re referring to is the highway, the traffic we’re seen at Dowd Junction,” Gordon said, speaking of this summer’s repaving and median project on Interstate 70.

Gordon agreed that something had to be done to modernize Vail, and he’s happy with the results so far, he said.

“I haven’t seen a project I don’t like yet,” he said.

Still, Foley said Vail needs to take a break from widespread construction.

“Let’s see how everything shakes out with everything that has been approved,” Foley said.

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