Breckenridge mayor responds to Vail Resorts’ criticism in State of the Town | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge mayor responds to Vail Resorts’ criticism in State of the Town

From environmental concerns to issues with "junky" Christmas lights, Breckenridge Town Council fielded a variety of citizens' questions at its annual State of the Town address Tuesday night, including one about the town's sometimes-tenuous relationship with Vail Resorts.

The annual address at Town Hall was broadcast live on Facebook for the first time ever, and anyone watching online could submit inquires in real time by posting in the comments section. Still, most of the questions posed Tuesday came from the council chambers gallery — overflowing at standing room only — and they covered everything from parking and traffic congestion to what the town is doing to protect bees and limit the use of plastic water bottles.

Reading the last question of the night, and eliciting a healthy round of laughter from the audience and council members alike, Mamula asked: "How is the relationship between the town of Breck and Vail Resorts?"

"This is the one I was saving," the mayor added, before delving into his answer.

"Well obviously, it's been strained," Mamula said of the relationship before beginning to talk about the history and reasons for it. "We come at problems from two different angles."

Mamula spent the final five minutes of the State of the Town — just under an hour and 20 minutes total — talking about the town's dealings with Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort and has characterized a town decision not to build a parking garage at F-Lot with money generated by a relatively new tax on lift tickets as a broken promise.

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In September, John Buhler, chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort, even submitted an op-ed to the Denver Post that ran under the headline, "A bait and switch by Breckenridge on voter-approved parking plan."

The town council green lighted a comprehensive traffic plan, anchored by a new parking structure at the F-Lot, in 2015. Voters later approved the lift ticket tax in November 2016, in part based on that plan. The plan approved by town council did not set a project date, nor a dollar amount for the structure, but Vail officials have been highly critical of the decision to abandon the parking garage, nonetheless.

On Tuesday, Mamula responded to some of that criticism through his response to the question about their relationship.

"The folks that sit up here are public servants that are trying to do the right thing for the community," Mamula said, adding that Vail Resorts is a "publicly traded company" with very different motives.

The mayor admitted the council might weigh the concerns of local residents "who live here 365 days a year" over that of other stakeholders, like guests or tourists, but he emphasized that the council still works on behalf of everyone in the community and tries "to solve the problems for all of us."

"On a local level, I have a great relationship with John Buhler and (other Vail officials), and I think our town staff does," the mayor continued. "There are issues we resolve behind the scenes that nobody ever talks about, that nobody ever writes letters to the Denver Post or sends postcards to everybody in the room four or five times during the winter to try and get their way."

Mamula stated that the town council made a decision this winter to take a non-confrontational approach with Vail, committing to work through the problems for which they could find solutions without "rising to the challenge of arguing in the newspaper on a constant basis." Mamula said the town decided to go this route even though there were some things put out by Vail that he "felt were not true."

Overall, the mayor was highly complimentary of what Vail has done with the ski resort — calling it "fantastic" and "world class" — and he was even more critical of the ownership before Vail Resorts.

However, that doesn't mean the town can't hold its own with Vail Resorts, Mamula said, especially when it comes to issues in the urban environment.

"I am happy to go to battle every single day on those things," he said. "Don't ever feel that we are not up to the challenge of arguing with Vail Resorts. We are not going to be pushed around by them. We do not kowtow to them. We are here as your representatives to make sure that you get the best deal out of anything we do with them, so that's the answer."

The State of the Town address began with a short video highlighting some of the positive changes over the last year. Shortly thereafter, council members took turns highlighting town progress in specific areas of interest, such as parking and transportation, child care tuition assistance, housing initiatives, recreation, town finances and water services.

Pens and small pieces of paper were passed out before the meeting began, and throughout the address, officers with the Breckenridge Police Department worked the aisles, collecting the questions and relaying them to the elected officials, who then took turns providing answers.

A number of different topics came up, including ones about congestion at City Market and another focused on the post office, for example. One of the most pervasive issues facing Breckenridge today, parking was a common discussion topic.

After the address, Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence said she was happy with the turnout, enjoyed the added Facebook component and was pleasantly surprised by the number of questions related to environmental issues.

"I think it really says a lot that our residents in Breckenridge really care about the environment and what that means for the future in Breckenridge," Lawrence said. "Hearing from our residents tonight, I think that's the push we needed to really think about everything we do — How can we protect Breckenridge in the future? — that's what it's all about."

Councilman Mike Dudick did not attend the forum. A complete video from the live feed is available on the town's Facebook page.