Project stretches concept of 'Vail'

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Special to the Daily An artist's rendering of the redesigned Crossroads center in Vail Village.

Cliff Thompson
November 9, 2004

VAIL - When the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission balked at a redevelopment plan for the 36-year-old Crossroads shopping center, and the developer requested the matter tabled, it highlighted a continuing debate in the ski town.

How does Vail Village retain the small-town Bavarian charm and avoid urbanization while redeveloping in order to remain competitive in the international resort world?

It's a big issue now as Vail is in the early phases of a $1 billion redevelopment effort dubbed the "Vail Renaissance" that will see nearly a dozen projects springing up over the next six years in the Village and Lionshead.

But the problem with redevelopment projects, said Vail Mayor Rod Slifer, is that they are often much larger and denser than the buildings they replace.

"The difficult thing will be trying to maintain the character we've always had," Slifer said. "That will be the challenge."

"It's a balancing act," said Russell Forrest, Vail's community development director. "We want to keep the ambiance and keep it special."

In its redevelopment efforts Vail must avoid killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, critics of the Crossroads proposal say. For many, that means keeping a pedestrian-friendly town with Bavarian or Swiss architecture, and avoiding urbanization, Forrest said.

Commercial core

Special to the Daily A developer has plans to renovate the Crossroads retail and residential complex in Vail Village.
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Yet the town needs to stimulate a flagging business community that has suffered from downvalley competition. And the $200 million Crossroads proposal may change the definition used to describe what comprises a mountain resort.

At nearly 600,000 square feet in size, with 514 underground parking spaces and standing 113 feet - or 10 stories high - it's nearly 10 times the square footage of the existing complex and would be the densest per-acre development in town, according to the town planning staff.

But what you don't see from the ground level up is four underground floors. The development will have an entertainment center similar to Dave and Busters with a restaurant, bar activities and arcade games in a 61,000-square-foot commercial space. In addition, a 10-lane bowling alley, sports bar and four-screen theater are planned, developer representatives said.

Above ground there would be 85 condominium units overlooking a plaza with an ice skating rink in winter and water fountain in summer.

But the size and height of the proposal worried members of the planning commission, who were concerned it was too much building for the 2.5 acre site and that its height and mass could overwhelm neighboring properties. The commission helps regulate development within the town by reviewing projects and comparing them to master plan regulations.

"This project will change the look and feeling of his town," said commission member Anne Brown, who asked the rhetorical question: "Is Vail a city or a town?"

Complicating the debate is that Vail's business community has struggled for nearly a decade as downvalley competition has cut into what was once the preeminent retail area in the county, forcing the town to pare its budget. A redeveloped Crossroads could add $2.3 million to town coffers from sales and property taxes, the developer said. It now contributes just $179,000 annually.

The town would also lose sales tax during the 24 or so months it would take to build the project.

Community need

For Peter Knobel, who purchased Crossroads a year ago for $13.5 million, it wasn't a question of maximizing the money he could make, said his representative, Dominic Mauriello.

"It's providing services that don't exist in this county," said Mauriello. "Peter has kids and understands what is needed. Peter was anxious to do a project that would be meaningful to town."

The concerns about bulk and mass of the project are offset by what the community would get, Mauriello said.

"They are offset by the extensive package we will benefit from in the long run," he said.

And because the project offers the town a number of amenities, it needs more mass to be viable, Mauriello said.

"The residential portion of this supports the development," he said.

But one longtime resident, Tom Steinberg, said the project is simply too much, despite the need to redevelop. But what the community's ideal may be a is a moving target.

"This is very tough. People's desires and the people who come here change. This project may be all right in Denver but it is not all right here," Steinberg said. "We would stop being a village resort and become a downtown commercial area."

Steinberg said developers often enter the review process seeking two or three times what they need to have a viable project, and suggested the town take its time reviewing the project. "It will only get better in time," he said.

Steinberg wasn't alone in criticizing the project.

"We're not there yet," said Vail native Jonathan Staufer. "We're a Tyrolean village in the mountains. We got there by not throwing out the baby with the bath water."

Need it

Nearly 50 people attended the planning commission meeting Monday in Vail and many of them supported the development.

"This place has passed its expiration date," said businessman Patrick Cassidy of the existing Crossroads.

Longtime real estate broker Ron Byrne urged the commission to support the project.

"The economic viability of Vail rests solidly on this site," he said. "It gives back vitality to the village."

Byrne spoke of the difficulty and expense of doing a redevelopment project. He said 14 years ago he and another partner attempted to redevelop Crossroads and failed.

Resident Dave Leber told the commission to rethink what is proper for the community.

"We know this project is bold," he said. "Your role is not to protect us from ourselves."

But longtime Vail observer Jim Lamont, a former planner who came here 30 years ago and now represents the Vail Village Homeowner's Association, said Vail has already become an urban area.

"It's unrealistic to think we're not going to go toward greater urbanization," he said. "Clearly we're becoming the best European resort community in America. We're growing into a very mature urban community. The charm stops at eight stories."

The project will next appear before the commission Dec. 13 seeking approval as a special development district. Mauriello said it some of the mass and architectural characteristics will be adjusted.

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or

It's now old

Crossroads Shopping Center was originally developed in 1968 by Rod Slifer - now Vail's Mayor - Dick Bailey, Ted Kendall, Morgan Davis and Fred Ford. It now is 60,000 square feet in size and houses 40 businesses, including Clark's Market and Crossroads Theatre.