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Vail redevelopment approved



VAIL, Colo. — Vail residents overwhelmingly approved the redevelopment of one of the town’s 1960s-style shopping complexes, called Crossroads, on Tuesday.

With 1,110 votes in favour and 467 opposed the redevelopment was approved.

Nobody questioned that the Crossroads seemed as dated as shag carpet. What was being debated was whether the new building, which will nudge 100 feet, will be too tall and bulky.

In a sense, the vote was a referendum on all of Vail’s redevelopment projects. With cranes dotting the town’s commercial core at the base of Vail Mountain, more than $1 billion in redevelopment is well underway. When all is done, 700 to 800 new hotel beds will be provided. But the phoenix of new buildings will, in every case so far, be taller and bulkier than the old buildings. And more, including the redevelopment project in question, could be coming.

The Crossroads redevelopment is called Solaris, and it was rejected last year by the town council in a 4-3 vote. In November, two of the older council members, who were in their 50s and 60s, were turned out. Taking their place were people in their 30s and 40s. The new council then reversed the previous vote.

Solaris is to include a 10-lane bowling alley, which seems to be a major attraction to Vail’s younger residents, many of whom are occupants of deed-restricted affordable housing. The project also includes a three-screen movie theatre, an ice rink, and 69 condominiums. Also: $1.1 million in public art and a public plaza suitable for small concerts.

The Vail Daily has solicited opinions from a variety of individuals. Andy Wiessner, who lives in the nearby Potato Patch neighborhood, one of the town’s most exclusive neighborhoods, argues that Solaris would be too much. "I don’t quarrel with the renewal," he said. "I just quarrel with the size of the buildings." This trend of bigger and taller, he said, is removing Vail from the status of "village". "It won’t be quaint," he added.

The background for this is a changing demographic. The ski mountain itself has become proportionately less important. Vail’s summer economy has broadened in the last 20 years. And aging boomers, who remain Vail’s core audience, are less athletic. This altogether suggests a stronger need for what are called urban amenities.

"Fifteen to 20 years ago, the mountain was a very large part of a person’s decision about where to vacation," said Ralf Garrison, a ski industry analyst with The Advisory Group. It is less important now in Vail, and also other ski towns.

Ford Frick, an economist who has worked with resort areas for 30 years, lauded Vail’s risk-taking. "It’s taking some chances. It’s realizing it can’t be just faux Bavarian." He told the Daily that the success of Solaris would depend heavily on its lowest 20 vertical feet: its storefronts and restaurants. Density, he added, is a good thing for ski-based resorts, as it engenders vitality. It’s just a matter of how best to configure that bulk.

As for the development of this particularly project, it’s a difficult decision, with "no real objective truth," Frick says. "One person can find it is an appealing environment, and one person can find it over the line."

The editor of Ski magazine, Greg Ditrinco, said Vail has so far managed to avoid going over the line. "Vail, in its current iteration, still pulls off an urban buzz with a small-town feel," he said. "That’s hard to do."

Garrison said that with the proliferation of formulaic base-area "villages," it’s increasingly important for resorts to preserve their distinctiveness. Vail, he believes, has done so.

Already, Vail has a variety of tall buildings, six and eight stories high. In addition. two new hotels are planned at the town’s main roundabout intersection, lateral to Interstate 70. The Vail Plaza Hotel, which is rising rapidly, will have a tower 99.75 feet. A Four Seasons planned for across the street is to be 89 feet tall. Elsewhere, the buildings of LionsHead Mall will be taller than their predecessors.

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