Breckenridge Town Council stalls parking garage plans
April 11, 2018
At a critical juncture Tuesday, Breckenridge Town Council flinched on plans to build a 400-space parking garage at Tiger Dredge and F Lot, all but guaranteeing the town won't break ground this year.
Driving council's decision to stall the project were incomplete cost estimates, the Colorado Department of Transportation still needing to give its final approval and a last-minute offer from Vail Resorts, owner of Breckenridge Ski Resort and three in-town parking lots.
As it has been described, Vail Resorts' latest offer could have landed the town's long-awaited parking garage on one of the resort-owned Gondola lots, instead of the town's side-by-side parking lots, Tiger Dredge and F Lot, deeper in the downtown area.
So far, the parking garage project hasn't been terribly well received throughout the community, but it hasn't been met with heaping amounts of opposition, either.
The biggest reason for consternation among many locals — including elected officials who've spearheaded the project to this point — is they all seem to agree a parking structure would be better suited on one of Vail Resorts' Gondola lots.
A NEW HOPE?
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Until Vail Resorts' latest offer, town officials had been adamant about starting construction at Tiger Dredge and F Lot this spring.
Repeated attempts to buy, trade or otherwise develop a parking garage on one of the resort's Gondola lots had all been rebuffed, Mayor Eric Mamula said.
Vail Resorts' latest offer has apparently fallen through too, with negotiations deteriorating to the point the company wrote a letter extremely critical of Breckenridge Town Council. The town, in turn, countered with a letter of its own. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to view both letters in their entirety.)
The dueling letters suggest the resort and town's working relationship is as bad as it has ever been, but the resorts' willingness to consider a parking garage on one of its lots represents a reversal from earlier statements, such as "Vail Resorts is not interested in selling (the town) our land."
According to Vail Resorts, the company was not contemplating an outright sale of the South Gondola Lot to the town, and the difference was that the concept shifted to "a joint ownership/control partnership."
The issue at hand Tuesday was necessary sewer work, which town manager Rick Holman told council must be done before spring runoff hits so the town can begin construction on the parking garage.
If the sewer line isn't moved before high water sets in, he said, the town would have to wait until fall to redo the sewer, thus pushing back the start of construction on the parking garage.
Because South Park Avenue is a state-controlled highway, CDOT has final say on the project. Town staff members have expressed confidence the project will get CDOT's approval, but without it, in addition to incomplete cost estimates and the latest developments with Vail Resorts, a majority of council was unwilling to OK the sewer work.
NO PUNCHES PULLED
In Vail Resorts' most recent letter to the town, Vail Resorts executive vice president-Mountain Division Chris Jarnot rehashes the resort's belief that council promised its guests a parking garage on F Lot with an increase of 600-700 parking spaces, to be paid for by the voter-approved lift-ticket tax.
The letter also claims that the resort "has presented council with viable alternatives to a Tiger Dredge structure on the Gold Rush or Gondola lots," but council has "flatly rejected" all of those proposals.
In the letter, Jarnot maintains that Vail Resorts actually offered to build a South Gondola Lot structure with 700 new parking spaces — on its own dime — in lieu of council pursuing a lift-ticket tax.
Perhaps the most cutting part of Jarnot's letter is the assertion that shortly after the March 13 council meeting, in which council members said Vail Resorts had not been a good partner, a development team hoping to build a luxury hotel at the base of Peak 8 — on land currently owned by the resort — approached Breckenridge Ski Resort about "a partnership whereby the town would partially fund a parking structure on the Gondola Lots and (the resort) would maintain ownership and control of the parcel."
Jarnot claims this is the first time anyone has offered a potential compromise that might allow the Gondola lots to be used as a parking solution, even though other letters from Breckenridge Ski Resort chief operating officer John Buhler to Mamula — obtained by the Summit Daily through open records request — explicitly reference multiple attempts by the mayor to buy those lots in August 2016 and December 2016.
After being approached by the development team, the resort returned to council and "offered to make our South Gondola Lot available to the town, at no cost, for council to build a parking structure," according to Jarnot's letter.
The letter says that, in Vail Resorts' most recent proposal to the town, the South Gondola Lot would be held in a partnership, with the resort controlling parking during the winter months and the town having it for the rest of the year. The proposal fell through, Jarnot said, when council rejected the offer and "demanded" that Vail Resorts turn over full ownership of the South Gondola Lot.
"Even if some believe that the town has every right to constantly change its mind about its parking plans — it is absolutely reasonable for (the resort) to want to maintain ownership and control of our existing skier parking," he wrote. "What business would give up its parking lot to the government?"
During Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Gary Gallagher, who was on council when negotiations between the town and Vail Resorts over the lift-ticket tax were happening in 2015, struggled to find a better description for Jarnot's letter than "bulls—."
On Tuesday, Mamula maintained Jarnot's letter came as a complete surprise in the middle of what he and other elected officials thought were ongoing negotiations. Furthermore, Mamula said, many of the accusations in it are not factually accurate.
In fact, the mayor and council have responded by claiming that earlier efforts to buy the Gold Rush Lot failed because Vail Resorts wanted too much for the land and building there would add to existing problems with vehicle and pedestrian traffic. According to Vail Resorts, the price tag was $7 million.
To Vail Resorts' accusations the town "flatly rejected" all proposals to build on the resort-owned lots, the council responded, "Those proposals were negotiated in good faith and unfortunately, after multiple conversations between the two entities, an accord that was mutually agreeable could not be reached."
Additionally, the town claims the initial offer "to build a South Gondola Lot structure" with Vail Resorts' own money was never put in writing and only mentioned in a newspaper editorial after voters approved the lift-ticket tax in November 2015.
As for Vail Resorts' most recent proposal regarding the South Gondola Lot, council claims the resort wanted the town to build the garage and then turn over "full control of the structure and all related parking" to Vail Resorts for the winter months, forever. As a counter offer, the town sought "to mutually agree on the management of the parking" and floated a "substantial yearly payment" to the resort over a set period of time.
Mamula said that neither he nor council thought "it was right that taxpayers would not be in control of the property" built with their money, and that's why the town countered the proposal.
After the counteroffer, Mamula said, Jarnot's letter went out.
Letter from Vail Resorts to Breckenridge Town Council
Response letter from Breckenridge Town Council to Vail Resorts