Vail Resorts commits $30 million to workforce housing across three states

Beaver Creek patroller Jeff Thompson skis with his patrol dog, Annie, who is the newest member of Beaver Creek’s patrol dog team.
Rachael Woods | Special to the Daily |

Vail Resorts on Wednesday pledged $30 million to new affordable workforce housing developments near its properties in Colorado, California and Utah in hopes of assisting these mountain communities with this urgent necessity.

The Broomfield, Colorado-based company plans to partner with local towns and governments, as well as community businesses and leaders to break ground and get projects moving along as soon as possible. How exactly this large sum of money will be divvied up among the three regions that support the area ski hills has yet to be decided, but the resort company says it understands the needs and is ready to act right away.

“We are ready to go,” said Mike Goar, Keystone Resort’s chief operating officer. “We all recognize the crunch for affordable housing in Summit County. We often talk about available rental units, and basically it’s zero percent; there’s nothing available to the workforce. Many of these conversations are already underway and continue. But now we have something more tangible.”

The announcement comes as welcome news to Summit County, which continues to battle an enduring rental-housing crisis, particularly for local employees. Although specific details are still being hammered out, including an eventual timeline, county officials are encouraged by the news and anticipate meetings with Vail Resorts as early as next week.

“It’s really exciting to see one of the largest employers in the county take such a strong leadership role on this critical matter,” said Gary Martinez, county manager in Summit County. “This is really great. Big kudos to Vail.”

The new initiative couldn’t have come soon enough. In 2013, the county, in conjunction with the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne, commissioned a housing needs assessment that showed in just the Upper Blue River Basin, between 200 and 370 rental units would be needed, in addition to 280 ownership units, by 2017.

Upon receiving the results of the study, the town of Breckenridge worked toward putting four affordable housing projects into development, devoting more than an estimated $40 million over the next three years to them: Pinewood Village II ($10 million), Huron Landing ($8.5 million, and in partnership with Summit County) and Denison Placers, Phase I and II (between $21 and $23 million total). Pinewood 2, which will offer 45 rental units and is currently under construction and projected to be completed by the end of 2016, while the other three will begin construction in the next year or two, all expected to be completed by 2018.

Even with those four structures, though, that still leaves the town deficient between 70 and 240 rental units of the 2013 Housing Needs Assessment target, in addition to 200 ownership units short following two private projects, Maggie Placer (nine units) and Wellington II, (69 units, and scheduled for completion between 2016-2020). The demand remains very real.

“This is a critical need in our community,” said Kim Dykstra, director of communications for the town of Breckenridge. “We look to some of the business community to help solve this. That’s not just on Vail Resorts; this is a community challenge. We have a fairly good track record in having a lot of projects come online and at various stages, and we’re looking forward to the next steps to continue to solve this issue together.”

What’s in store following Wednesday’s initial announcement and how much money will go to which locales is still being worked out, as is at what point affordable projects might reach completion down the road. In the meantime, Vail Resorts, which added about 650 beds in the last three years for a grand total of more than 3,200 it already owns and maintains — the majority of which exist in Summit and Eagle counties — has offered up its own land and a willingness to execute long-term leasing guarantees, aside from the $30 million in capital.

Keystone’s Goar noted that money might not necessarily be evenly distributed, however. He also said that he does not envision a pitch meeting to make those decisions. Funding will be provided based on priority of the greatest identifiable need, and could even go toward existing projects as, once more, time is of the essence.

“We fully expect meaningful dialogue to take place immediately,” he reiterated. “We’re reaching out today talking to local governments … and saying, ‘How quickly can we sit down and really putting energy into conversations and solutions?’”

The county is optimistic about this new collaborative effort and of the mind that obtaining its slice of the pie comes down to being innovative and putting all options on the negotiation table in working toward a goal of producing the most local impact.

“They have some land, we have some land,” said Martinez. “We need to find ways to leverage each other’s resources and build strong partnerships to get a couple projects going in the not-so-distant future.”

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