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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ever Vail approaches key step

From the Vail Daily

The economy hasn't magically turned around enough for Vail Resorts to break ground on its $1 billion Ever Vail project, but the company hasn't changed its intent to move the project forward as quickly as possible.

About 50 town of Vail meetings later, Vail Resorts Development Co. is still trucking along with its five development applications relating to the proposed Ever Vail project. The applications include rezoning and master plan amendments.

The company and the town of Vail will reach an important milestone Sept. 20 when discussions are scheduled to begin about the development agreement, a time when negotiations between the town and the resort company are expected to heat up around issues like parking and economic impacts.

The town isn't likely to approve any of the five applications without first working on the development agreement.

“I think getting into the (development agreement) discussions sooner than later will facilitate the entire approval process,” Councilman Andy Daly said at the council's Aug. 16 meeting. The town of Vail first saw the Ever Vail project in 2007, proving that the time it takes for a development of this size and scale to move through town approvals is lengthy.

Vail Resorts knew it would be time consuming but the company never backed down, even as the national economy crashed in 2008 and local construction and real estate industries took a nose dive along with it.

The resort company wants to get its approvals in place, even as the stock market continues on the roller coaster ride of recent weeks and local real estate inventory remains high.

Kristin Kenney Williams, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts Development Co., said the company's confidence in an economic turnaround lies in the fact that the company remains committed to getting its town of Vail approvals for the project.

“The economy will turn around some day; the real estate market will come back,” Kenney Williams said. “And when you see how long and how challenging it is, especially with a project the size of Ever Vail, to get your entitlements — we're already in year three — we could be behind the curve of other resort communities that also heavily depend on redevelopment.”

Economic recovery needed
The Ever Vail application includes plans to build a gondola from West Lionshead to Eagle's Nest, an underground mountain operations facility, 670 public parking spaces, 102 hotel rooms, on-site employee housing, a specialty grocery store, a live music venue, a transit center, deed-restricted and free-market condominiums, and Vail Recreation District space. The project would be built on a 12-acre site in West Lionshead and would require the demolition of the office buildings there now.

The project would also mean the South Frontage Road, which curves through West Lionshead between the Ritz Carlton Residences and the current Vail shop yard, would be realigned so it remains straight and parallel to Interstate 70 all the way through the town of Vail from west to east.

That important step would be the first phase of the project, Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for Vail Resorts Development Co. Alex Iskenderian told the Vail Town Council at its last meeting.

At this point, that phase wouldn't happen until the spring of 2013 at the earliest, he said.

“It's very much reliant on what the economy does, what the real estate market does, how quickly we can sell through the existing inventory that exists in Vail right now — the significant, high-end real estate inventory that exists in Vail right now,” Iskenderian said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation hasn't officially approved the South Frontage Road realignment as of yet, either, but Kenney Williams said the indication is that the department will support it.

Town of Vail Community Development Director George Ruther said the relocation of the Frontage Road will be a major milestone in the eyes of the town. That step would be the indicator that the company is ready to break ground on the next phase of the project, also signifying the company's confidence in the overall economy, he said.

If the Frontage Road is realigned in the spring of 2013, the earliest the company would begin building other phases of the project, such as the underground maintenance facility or the hotel and parking components, would be the spring of 2014, Iskenderian said. The reason the company hasn't pursued the final CDOT approvals is because there's a two-year life span on the Frontage Road realignment approval and Vail Resorts isn't ready for that clock to start ticking, he said.

With the development agreement process about to begin, the clock will begin ticking on the project's five application approvals, however. Kenney Williams is still hopeful the approvals could happen before the end of the year, and Ruther said he can't foresee anymore delays.

“I think everyone is getting a good understanding of what the project is,” Ruther said. “Now it really comes down to discussions in the developer agreement.”

She points to the success of Solaris, the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Vail and the Four Seasons as proof that Vail visitors want what's new — the town had record sales tax revenues at times throughout the winter and the resort broke skier visit records, too.

“That idea of continuing to reinvent and reinvest in ourselves is key to a successful resort community like Vail,” Kenney Williams said. “The market certainly isn't back and the economy is still where it is, and that's why we can't commit to when this will break ground — we're committing to get this project approved so that we're ready.”

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