'Long-timers made Vail great, new generation is its destiny'

Vail Town Council candidate questionnaire - Robert Aikens

Daily Staff Report
October 23, 2005

1. Why are you running for Vail Town Council?

Small businesses in Vail need a voice on the Town Council. As owner of Verbatim Booksellers, I have the same worries, doubts and concerns as many other local business owners about surviving through all the construction and through the off-seasons. We need to make sure that our unique small businesses survive so that Vail will survive. I also want to provide Vail with a bridge between the longtime locals who made Vail great and this newer generation who will take charge of Vail's destiny. I feel we can both respect the past and look to the future.

2. What are the biggest issues facing Vail right now?

Economic development is a major issue. Included in that are the issues of Crossroads and the conference center. We need to find a way to turn Vail's businesses into vibrant, year-round cash cows. That includes providing local businesses with the support they need, not standing in their way. Vail needs a diverse collection of retail businesses that attract shoppers. We should be encouraging locals to "buy Vail first," to reinvest their money into the local economy before they shop online or drive elsewhere. Then there's the West Vail fire station, which has been on hold for 20 years despite the obvious threat of fire all around us.

3. What are Vail's greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Vail is the best place in the world to live. Our strengths are our scenery and our people. Vail does a great job of using its beautiful natural surroundings to its advantage, turning the town into a world-class destination area. Vail has made sure that people all over the world want to come to our town. Our citizens are full of energy and a desire to make their hometown the best it can be. Vail's weakness is figuring out how to be both a town and a resort. It is a delicate balance, one that we must re-evaluate constantly. That town/resort duality is what makes Vail a unique community. We need to turn it into one of our strengths.

4. What is your position on the proposed conference center? Why?

I will vote yes on the conference center. As a small business owner, I am excited about the prospect of increasing off-season business. As of now, like many local business owners in retail, dining and hospitality, I constantly worry about being able to pay my bills in the spring and fall. It is such a challenge to run a business in a resort community, and businesses can no longer solely rely on winter sales to carry them through the rest of the year. Businesses should be deciding how much staff they will employ in the off-seasons, not whether or not to stay open.

5. The planning commission unanimously endorsed a plan for redevelopment of the Crossroads complex in Vail Village earlier this year. Do you support that plan, and, if not, what specific changes would have to be made to this plan to make it acceptable?

I spoke in favor of that plan during the Town Council vote. The failure of the current Town Council was not in rejecting that plan, however, but in failing to make sure an acceptable alternative was reached. Vail is in the middle of a major redevelopment, so the time to begin construction on Crossroads is now. I have spoken with many people on both sides of this issue. The problem is nobody is talking to each other. Vail needs something done at Crossroads, and it needs to be taken care of soon. I see a solution on the horizon.

6. Redevelopment is under way in Vail Village and Lionshead, and major redevelopment is planned in West Vail and West Lionshead. How would you seek to influence this development?

I will make sure these developments are in Vail's long-term interests, and not just a way for the developers to make a quick buck. What that means is I want to make sure the plans are in line with where Vail wants to go. I'm looking for a combination of retail, office and residential spaces that include affordable housing. I'm looking for it to be pedestrian friendly. Most importantly, I want it to add to the character of Vail, not take away from it.

7. This year's community survey shows residents said parking is the top issue facing the town. How would you deal with this issue?

Many of the projects underway will help alleviate the parking problem by providing more available underground spaces. One of the benefits of the Crossroad's plan was that it offered a significant amount of extra parking beyond what the town required. We should continue to require new projects to incorporate a set-amount of parking in their plans. We also need to look at a Beaver Creek-style plan where we would have a free parking lot farther away from the mountain with a free shuttle bus between the parking lot and the mountain.

8. Does Vail need to be more welcoming to middle class families? If yes, how?

As I said, one of Vail's greatest strengths is its people. The problem is we are losing young families. They are choosing to live downvalley or out of Eagle County entirely. We want to bring families back, not only to visit Vail, but to live in Vail. Vail will always be attractive to the wealthiest in the world, but we should make sure we don't price out the locals. If we can retain middle-class families, we will have that year-round vitality that we are seeing in Edwards and Eagle. We will retain a valuable workforce. We will improve business. We will keep Vail a fun, energetic place.

9. Ask and answer your own question that will help voters decide how to vote.

A fire station in West Vail was proposed in the early '80s. It has yet to be built. What is your take on the proposed fire station and why?

The time is now to build a fire station in West Vail. This fire station has been in the plans for many years. We can wait no longer. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the recent forest fires in Summit and Garfield counties are wake-up calls. A fire in Vail would devastate not only our economy, but the beautiful valley we all cherish. With all the dead and dying lodgepole pines, the risk of fire is just too great to wait.

Vail, Colorado