Vail: A Post-redevelopment Vision
By Kent Logan
While it may sound premature to talk about “post-redevelopment” when large construction cranes dot the Vail skyline and the streets are still torn up, I believe the greatest challenge facing us as a community over the next few years is to forge a vision defining what we want our town to “feel like,” and in fact, “be.” From its inception, we have “been” one of the best ski and outdoor recreation venues in the world; increasingly, we have developed an impressive cultural dimension to our town through our summer Bravo musical program, the dance festival and our year round performing arts program—accomplishments in which all of us should take justifiable pride. Beyond that, however, there are many other “software” projects to which we should turn our attention and forge a thoughtful, collective, collaborative vision of how we want our Town to evolve—a Community Master Plan, if you will. The cynics and skeptics among us will quickly dismiss the suggestion as hopeless, citing the mixed results of the Vail Tomorrow project of a few years ago. However, I believe we must re-double our efforts because the stakes are higher now—our Town has already been changed—irrevocably (and I believe mostly for the better) by the vast number of projects that are already underway, and it has been changed perhaps more than most residents believe (at least until the steel begins to define the actual dimensions of these new buildings). The risk to the Town two years ago was that redevelopment would get delayed once again—obviously that did not happen. Today, the risk is frankly that we proceed too far, too fast. Now is the time to begin the process—involving all segments of our community (young and old, full time and part time residents, business owners, employees and tourists)—in developing a consensus defining the future “character” of Vail.
But before we begin that process, we should all not lose sight of everything that has been accomplished over the past two years! While most of the election rhetoric will swirl around our differences related to the Crossroads and Conference Center projects (more on those later), do not let those two issues overshadow everything we as a community agree on that is positive.
Fiscal Condition and Finances Never Better
Redevelopment Is Underway in a Big, Big Way (or be careful what you wish for)
In addition, the Town Council approved a plan early in 2005 to enable the Town to pursue tax-increment financing (TIF) in relation to the Lionshead redevelopment projects which will fund up to $9 million in new Town infrastructure improvements; it also completed a master plan for the 3.6 acre Chamonix property which will include the long-delayed West Vail fire station; and last but not least, one of Vail’s oldest landmarks, Pirateship Park, was rebuilt.
To have come so far so fast over the past two years is remarkable! It would not have been possible without the superhuman efforts of Russ Forrest, our Director of Community Development and his entire staff! Well done! Also, no small part of the achievements reflects a much improved working relationship with our corporate partner—Vail Resorts. One of the Town’s objectives two years ago was to enhance this essential collaboration, and thanks to Adam Aron’s assertive and constructive leadership and his staff’s unflagging cooperative attitude, we have gotten more done than anyone thought possible.
2005 Vail Community Survey Confirms Town Is Moving in the Right Direction
Last spring, the Town of Vail conducted a survey which included 302 year-round residents and 102 second homeowners. The results confirmed the fact that you also believe the Town is moving in the right direction.
From the survey:
1. When asked “if the Town is on the right track,” 70% responded favorably, up sharply from 57% in 2003.
2. When asked, “thinking about the vision for the new Vail and all the improvements that are occurring,” 47% said they were very excited and only 10% were not excited.
3. And even with the Town Council, satisfaction rose modestly (but at least in the right direction) to a 3.2 rating in 2005 (after declining from 3.3 in 2000 to 3.0 in 2003) with 39% of the respondents indicating they were very satisfied with the Council.
Diversity of Opinion a Strength, Not a Weakness
As with any period of major change everything did not go on “auto pilot,” and in fact, in a diverse community we should expect, and respect, diverse opinions. We must guard against those special interest parties that would attempt to polarize the community by driving a wedge between us in an overt political attempt to achieve a personal agenda. By working together we can accomplish a lot—in fact, we already have. As you know, not all seven members of the Council were in favor of all the accomplishments just mentioned. However, the important point to me is that as a group we did succeed in pushing progress forward smartly. As a group, we brought different strengths to the table given our varied experience from housing, building codes and regulations, small business, lodging, I-70 noise mitigation efforts, finance and a sometimes taken for granted sense of a historical perspective on the evolution of the Town. In fact, we should all remember that it was the risks undertaken, and the investments made, by Vail’s “old Guard” that are responsible for the success that Vail is today! As I mentioned, diversity of opinion in Vail is healthy, and diversity on the Council is a strength, not a weakness. The risk to the Town two years ago was that redevelopment would get delayed once again—obviously that did not happen. Today, the risk is frankly that we proceed too far, too fast. As I mentioned earlier, I believe strongly that it is time to return to our neighborhoods, solicit thoughtful objective opinions and work towards developing a collective, collaborative vision—in short, a Community Master Plan. Importantly, the process of change must be managed; ultimately, if successful, we will look back and appreciate the fact that we took the time to deliberate and forge a vision which reflected a consensus of the majority.
Crossroads and the Conference Center
As promised, I finally get to the two high-profile questions of the Crossroads and the Conference Center. First, let me stress that this election was about much more than just these two issues—it was about the progress we have made and the vision to be forged in the months ahead.
The second general point that I would make is that we live in a “grey” world, not a “black and white” one. Most often, a complex decision is not a simple black or white proposition, although proponents, or opponents, of a particular question would like us to believe that it is so. In my opinion, Crossroads is one such “grey” decision.
Practically no one, including myself, believes that the Crossroads building is not in desperate need of redevelopment; in fact, the biggest public benefit would be to tear it down before it falls down. Why then did I vote no on this specific plan? Simply put, the size of this particular architectural plan for Crossroads (height, bulk, density) elevated this redevelopment to a select number of projects that “have the potential to change the character of the Town.” AND the fact that there has not been sufficient effort devoted to obtaining thoughtful public input relative to that broad question. I do believe that if we had followed the procedure we used for both the Front Door project and the Arrabelle Lionshead core site project, we would have had a much better chance of reaching the appropriate compromise to move Crossroads forward. In that regard, at a recent joint meeting of the Town Council and the PEC (Planning and Environmental commission), a recommendation was made to hold a joint “conceptual review” of major projects with the Council, the PEC and DRB (Design Review board), and the public, as the initial step before the formal application process is begun. I still believe the appropriate redevelopment of Crossroads is critical to the Town of Vail. I hope we can restart this process with greater public participation earlier in the process.
The Road Ahead—A New Vision of a Better Vail
As I mentioned earlier, the physical redevelopment of Vail is only the first step in building a “New Vision of a Better Vail.” Increasingly, we must collectively turn our attention to the “software” aspects that determine the character of our Town. That is not to say that there are not several important projects on the horizon. Among them:
On the “software” side, the challenge is even larger, and in many ways more difficult because the conclusions are less obvious, but in the longer run will have far-reaching consequences on our collective “Vail experience.” Initiation of a series of Neighborhood Town Meetings to gather comprehensive public input as the first step in developing a Community Master Plan should be the first priority of the new Council in 2006. As a first step, several “focus meetings” have already been conducted by the Town staff.
Finally, I again urge you to step back for a moment and reflect upon all the positive things that have been accomplished in the last two years, and not be overwhelmed by the very few issues that have divided us. We as a group have accomplished a lot! Last, but certainly not least, as he completes his second term as the Mayor of Vail, I want to thank Rod Slifer for his mature, steadfast leadership during this eventful period.
Vail Town Councilman