Town of Breckenridge, Breckenridge Ski Resort at odds over funding parking, transit improvements
The town council is convinced the town needs a lift-ticket admissions tax to fund construction and maintenance of a new parking garage at the F-Lot at the south end of town as well as increased transit services.
On Wednesday, July 15, the town gave the resort a proposal for a 4-percent tax on tickets and season passes.
Resort representatives said they agree with the town that parking is an issue and more is needed, but they have repeatedly said no to the tax.
“We are adamantly opposed to a lift-ticket tax,” said Kristen Petitt Stewart, the resort’s communications manager.
The resort has until Friday to respond to the proposal. Then, if town officials don’t like the answer, they plan to put the tax on the November ballot.
“The council is unanimous on this issue,” said Councilman Ben Brewer. “None of us wavered one iota when it comes to the idea of first of all asking Vail Resorts to partner with us and, if they refuse, then asking the voters to pass the admissions tax.”
He added that he sees the tax as a way of improving the town’s relationship with Vail Resorts.
“It’s been kind of a dysfunctional, lopsided relationship for a long time,” he said, “and I think a lot of people are sort of ready to bring it up-to-date.”
SAME AS VAIL
After years of studies and discussion about how to address parking issues and congestion, the town announced in May that it would move forward with plans to build an F-Lot structure.
“We keep trying to fix it with band-aids, and the band-aids are coming off,” said Kim Dykstra, the town’s communications director, referencing increased education about parking lot locations and fines for violating three-hour parking limits that haven’t curbed the problem. “We’re really concerned about how that’s going to affect our future tourism, which is obviously all of our bread and butter.”
The town of Breckenridge held two community forums July 6 and 7 to share details and compile public feedback about the proposed garage and other strategies.
The roughly $50 million garage would create a net gain of up to 600 parking spots, and its cost would include a roundabout at Park Avenue and Village Road and a pedestrian bridge to alleviate slow-downs caused by people crossing Park on foot.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said the location is ideal because studies have shown those parked at F-Lot are most likely to go into town, and the grading allows for a three-level structure that appears shorter from downtown.
She said the tax is needed to help fund all parking and transit improvements, including management changes of current infrastructure and increased bus routes and frequencies.
The town currently spends roughly $572,000 a year on parking management and $2.4 million on transit; officials estimate improvements will increase annual operating costs by $1 million to $3 million in addition to $1.5 million to $2 million spent on new buses.
Other ski resort communities — including Vail, Telluride, Crested Butte and Park City — impose a lift-ticket tax, Wolfe said, while there has never been a tax on lift tickets in Breckenridge.
Brewer said lift tickets haven’t been subjected to the town’s sales tax, even after ticket offices moved from federal land to within town limits.
The town of Vail, 20 miles northwest, has benefited from a 4-percent lift-ticket tax since the 1990s, which Breckenridge town staff estimated brought in $4.3 million in 2014.
Wolfe said, “Breckenridge is asking for the same arrangement, the exact same arrangement.”
QUESTIONS OF SIZE, SPEED
Resort representatives said Vail’s tax is unique as it was originally developed in the 1960s as a self-imposed fee to help the new town of Vail get started as it absorbed some services provided by the ski area. With the passage of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the fee was reconstituted as tax.
In contrast, Stewart said, Breckenridge is an already well-established town in a healthy financial position.
Brewer said the town’s surplus after the recession was evidence of financial stewardship, but the town still doesn’t have enough funds without the tax.
“We can’t afford to build the parking structure or address the transit issues. Despite the fact that the town has some money, we don’t have that much money,” he said. “A one-time gift simply doesn’t address the long-term problem.”
The resort agrees that it needs to be a funding partner, Stewart said, but it already contributes $1 million annually in running its own bus and transit services and doesn’t want to burden guests.
“We are committed to protecting the Breckenridge guest and do not believe that our guests should be charged twice: once at a parking structure and again when they buy their lift ticket,” Stewart said.
Gary Shimanowitz, the resort’s vice president of mountain operations, said the resort doesn’t want to rush a 900-space garage that would rarely fill but could overwhelm the Peak 9 base area.
A smaller parking structure and transit improvements could be paid for with a one-time contribution from Vail Resorts, he said, combined with the addition of metered parking downtown.
Councilwoman Wolfe said the structure would be designed to fill only on busiest days of the season, so it could handle demand well into the future. It also could have electronic signage with chairlift and gondola wait times that would balance out base area crowds.
The town can’t move forward with a parking and transit plan, including designing the parking structure’s size, she said, until it secures long-term funding.
If that happens in the next few months, she said, 2016 would be spent planning and 2017 would be construction.
“If we keep going from where we are right now, it’ll still be three years before that structure is ready to park any cars,” she said. “This is not too fast.”
WHAT ABOUT METERS?
In December, a parking and transit tax force led by police chief Shannon Haynes started meeting with the goal of finding solutions to increase close-in parking for visitors.
The task force included the resort’s Shimanowitz, town and business representatives, and its members have met about a dozen times.
The task force’s primary recommendation was parking meters, said Robin Theobald, a fifth-generation Breckenridge resident and task force member.
“I was on the opposite side of the fence on parking meters before,” he said, but the group found that meters would solve most of the town’s parking and transit problems. “That was striking to me. It was like, ‘My god, we got to do this.’”
Today’s meters allow the town to enforce different rules and prices in different areas, create free parking at certain times and change everything easily online. Those parking can use smartphones to pay for more time while sitting at dinner.
Theobald said the town should further consider meters and shouldn’t bundle parking solutions with the lift-ticket tax. What if voters are for the tax but against the new garage or vice versa? He also praised Vail Resorts’ cooperation during task force meetings.
Jeffrey Bergeron, a longtime resident and former council member, questioned whether adding a pay structure would lesson congestion caused by drivers searching for free parking. He supported a smaller parking garage and suggested Breckenridge may reach a capacity and stop growing as fast as projected.
Dick Carleton, managing partner of Mi Casa and Hearthstone restaurants, expressed concerns about the garage’s impacts on Park Avenue traffic and said parking meters would hurt Breckenridge’s brand.
“I’m adamantly against metered parking. I don’t think it fits in Breckenridge,” he said.
Wolfe said the town is still considering meters as a method of changing parking behaviors but would want more community feedback before taking action.
A 2014 survey of residents and visitors showed 71 percent of respondents against meters, and 18 percent open to the idea with provisions including free parking after a certain time, more convenient worker parking, frequent public transportation and reasonable cost and time limits.
The town is also still examining a “no re-parking” policy and dedicated employee-only lots while keeping the popular “Free after 3 p.m.” policy.
Carleton emphasized the need to not overlook residents’ and workers’ needs while prioritizing visitors.
“Our employees deserve better in terms of parking,” he said. “That can’t be a forgotten piece. They’re not second-class citizens that get shoved to the outside of town.”
The ultimate goal — greatly improving the guest experience — benefits everyone, Wolfe said. “We believe it’s a win-win.”
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