Vail 'ice bubble' is closer to the sale block

Photo by Vail Daily/Shane Macomber
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Vail is trying to decide what to do with the Ice Bubble, Keep it here in Vail or sell it to Edwards
Vail Daily/Shane Macomber

Scott N. Miller
June 20, 2004

No one's sure just what the market is for giant fabric buildings, which could make selling Vail's "ice bubble" something of a problem.

Despite uncertainty about how to sell the bubble, or just who might be in the market for the thing, the Vail Town Council this week moved closer to putting the structure on the sale. One final public hearing will be held, probably in July, before the "for sale" sign goes up.

The bubble has served the town as a second ice sheet since January of 2001, when the structure was put up on the Vail Golf Course driving range. The structure was put up while renovations and repairs were done at Dobson Ice Arena.

With use dropping in the winters since work at Dobson was finished, the Vail Recreation District board earlier this year decided it would not run the bubble in the 2004-05 season.

With no entity ready to run the facility, and facing annual costs of about $200,000 to put up and tear down the structure, Town Council members decided Tuesday to at least leave the bubble in storage, in five truck trailer rigs. Just storing the structure costs about $10,000 per year.

With the meter continuing to run even if the bubble never sprouts again in Vail, council members sound eager to put it on the market. Just what that market might be, though, is a matter of some speculation.

The replacement cost of the bubble is in the $500,000 to $600,000 range, Public Works Streets & Maintenance Manager Larry Pardee said. However, he added, the company that sold the bubble to the town wasn't able to give him a solid answer about what the used structure might be worth.

"A reasonable starting point is probably $200,000 to $250,000," Pardee said.

Then there's the question of just who would buy the thing. Local skating interests continue to express interest in buying the bubble and moving it to the Edwards area, perhaps at the county's Miller Ranch property.

The issue remains, though, who would buy it.

"Vail Junior Hockey would like to bid on it," said Linda Chase, a member of that group's board. "We'd like to put together a group to do that... we'd have to raise the money."

The ability of hockey and other skating interests to raise the money is another open question. Councilman Greg Moffet questioned whether skating interests could get the job done, as did fellow Councilman Farrow Hitt.

Hitt said he'd been talking recently with a hockey parent. "I said, 'You guys need to come in with a viable option for us,'" he said. "But they'll surprise me if they come in with anything."

While numerous questions remain, Ginny Crowley, founder of a fledgling women's hockey league, said she hopes the bubble can stay in the valley.

"I hope the Vail Town Council will sell it to local interests," Crowley said. "Growing our sport countywide will be beneficial to Vail in the long run."

Bubble background

September 2000: Vail spends $770,000 for a temporary inflatable ice rink cover as back-up for scheduling strains at Dobson Ice Arena

October 2000: Seventy-six golf course neighbors appeal rezoning for the "Bubble," but the Town Council denies the appeal and approves operating it on the Vail Golf Course's driving range for two winters. Appellants then win a temporary injunction, halting installation. A judge lifts the injunction, binding the case over for trial.

November and December 2000: Installation is delayed by weather and litigation.

January 2001: Bubble opens for the first time, three months behind schedule.

April 2001: Bubble comes down for summer season.

November 2001: Bubble is back for second winter season.

January 2002: Judge rules the town of Vail failed to properly notify public of rezoning process, declaring the rezoning moot and ordering the Bubble be removed.

April 2002: Bubble comes down; two-season permit expires.

November 2002: Council changes conditional uses for golf course zoning district to include "seasonal structures." Bubble set-up commences.

December 2002, January 2003: Vail Recreation District board members say bubble not cost-efficient, threaten to refuse paying for the annual set-up and break-down costs, estimated then at $120,000.

April 2003: Council considers selling the Bubble.

September 2003: Council allocates $190,OOO to pay for set-up and tear-down costs of the Bubble for the 2003-04 season.

October 2003: Vail employees begin erecting and inflating the Bubble for its fourth season.

April 2004: Bubble comes down for perhaps the last time