Breckenridge parking garage talks stall over question of ownership
September 13, 2018
The biggest question facing Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday hinged on where the town should build its long-awaited parking garage. Without a definitive answer to that question, the town and Vail Resorts have reached an impasse.
Breckenridge appeared set to start construction on a parking garage straddling two town-owned parking lots — Tiger Dredge and F-Lot — before pumping the brakes on the project this spring.
The delay was sparked in part by an offer from Vail Resorts suggesting the company, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort and a handful of in-town parking lots, was willing to negotiate over the South Gondola Lot, where many locals think a downtown parking structure would be best suited.
So far, negotiations between the town and Vail Resorts have not produced any kind of agreement. On Tuesday, town officials said their options could include continuing to pursue a deal with Vail Resorts or looking elsewhere to town-owned properties.
"If we are going to build it in the core, (the South Gondola Lot) is the best location," town manager Rick Holman admitted, echoing previous statements from Breckenridge citizens and council members.
Or council could seek other solutions, he said. Consultants have suggested that Breckenridge should capture drivers on the outskirts of town with "intercept lots" and use the public transportation system to ferry those people into the town core.
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"If we really want to look at intercept lots on the north and south ends (of Breckenridge), then that's what we should be talking about," Holman said.
Addressing his colleagues, Mayor Eric Mamula said he would be "happy to keep plugging away" with Vail Resorts, if that's council's will. Based on Tuesday's discussions, however, most council members feel like the town should own the land under the parking structure. They have concerns about building a structure for tens of millions of dollars and then ceding control of it to someone else.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said she was willing to see what kind of proposal the company might come up with, but other council members expressed their willingness to walk away from the South Gondola Lot altogether if the town can't get the land.
Tuesday's conversation was important because Mamula and Holman had a Wednesday morning phone call with Vail Resorts executive vice president-mountain division Chris Jarnot to continue discussions. On Thursday, Mamula said he relayed the town's commitment to owning the land to Vail Resorts, but it didn't produce any notable changes in the talks, which have hit a stalemate.
"Honestly, unless there's some real change of heart in the company, I don't see them (selling us the land)," the mayor said. "I don't even hold a grudge against them for doing that. I think that's completely legitimate if they want to say, 'We don't want to sell our property.' I get that."
Meanwhile, Vail Resorts seems to be struggling to see the town's point of view.
"The town of Breckenridge informed us this week that they are not interested in continuing the discussions we have been having around parking in Breckenridge," reads a statement from the company. "We will be looking to understand the town's position better."
Preferring the South Gondola Lot over a structure at Tiger Dredge and F-Lot, Councilman Gary Gallagher said protecting downtown is paramount to him, and he wouldn't mind looking at intercept lots, perhaps at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena on the south side of town or on the Block 11 property to the north.
"Trying to think more holistically, more globally, big picture, I'm kind of coming back to I'd like to see us protect our core and not jam it up with more traffic," he said. "I'm prepared to start thinking about alternatives that are not the South Gondola Lot."
For Councilman Dick Carleton, the South Gondola Lot could be a good option, but only if the town can own the land.
"I find that making that level of investment on land we don't own, I'm just struggling with it," he said. "I guess my feeling is we should move forward but on land we own."
In July 2017, council declined a north-and-south, town-owned gondola, but Councilwoman Erin Gigliello mentioned it might be worth revisiting if council favors intercept lots. Shortly thereafter, Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron said he could support building on the South Gondola Lot, but like Gallagher and Carleton, only if the town owns the land and only if it's a "good deal" for Breckenridge. That said, Bergeron further suggested that parking isn't really that big of issue in Breckenridge, except for maybe 20-30 days a year.
"You know, I'm in no hurry," he said. "We're talking about throwing a lot of money at this, and if we do it, we better do it right and in the right location. I'm still conflicted about where that right location would be."
Mamula also talked about the importance of getting this decision right. He said the ongoing conversation and time spent on the project will ultimately lead to a best-case scenario for the town. Because of the magnitude of the project, the mayor added, he's OK if it takes a while to reach the best solution.