Parking garage talks suggest warming relationship between Breckenridge, Vail Resorts
October 14, 2018
As Breckenridge officials and Vail Resorts continue trying to hash out a deal that would land the town's long-awaited parking garage on resort-owned land, the most encouraging aspect of the negotiations so far could be how the two sides are now talking about each other.
The town has been eyeing a new parking garage for years. Elected leaders almost pushed forward with plans to build one on two town-owned surface parking lots — Tiger Dredge and F Lot — earlier this year before a late offer from Vail Resorts stalled those plans.
Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge Ski Resort, maintains three parking lots in Breckenridge: the Gold Rush, North and South Gondola lots. Because the South Gondola Lot isn't as deep in the town core as Tiger Dredge and F Lot are, it's widely seen as a better location to build a parking structure in the downtown area.
At bitter odds this spring, each side seems to be holding out hope now that — however unlikely it may appear at this point — they might still find common ground that both adds skier parking in the town core and gives the town what most residents feel like is a best-case scenario for a downtown parking garage.
"We hope to be able to work through things with the town and partner with them to build parking on the South Gondola Lot," a resort spokeswoman wrote in a Friday email following a request for interview. "We don't want to comment beyond that at this point and risk derailing our discussions."
At the same time, Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula has been highly complimentary of recent discussions, saying they've been productive in rebuilding the town and Vail Resorts' working relationship even though the two remain at a stalemate over the issue of ownership.
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"I think we've made great strides; I think our relationship is definitely better," the mayor said, adding that he doesn't know if they are "ever going to get anywhere on South Gondola" but recent talks have been "good."
Ideally, council would like for the town to buy the land — or a piece of it — from the resort at fair market value, but Vail Resorts has been unwilling to consider such a sale, the mayor said.
Obtained through an open records request, Vail Resorts' latest proposal suggests the town could lease the South Gondola Lot to build a garage and surface parking on the property.
In the latest offer to the town, the Vail Resorts proposes a long-term lease with an initial term of 50 years and subsequent, renewable long-term extensions. To lease the property, the town would either pay Vail Resorts $400,000 annually — with that amount increasing by 2 percent every year — or give Vail Resorts a share of the winter profits, based on the number of parking spaces currently on the property and the number added by the town.
Per Vail Resort's latest offer, the town would have to build a structure with at least 597 parking spaces in it, while also paving and striping the remaining portion of the South Gondola lot.
As the property owner, Vail Resorts would have to approve all aspects of the parking structure's development, including its size, capacity, location, orientation on the property, interior and exterior designs, signage, plans and specifications — along with the construction schedule, budget and timeline — while the town would cover all the operational and maintenance costs.
The town would manage the parking structure's pricing and strategy, except at times the mountain is open for winter operations, when Vail Resorts would take over control.
"It's difficult for (town council) to take tax money, build something and not have complete and utter control over it," Mamula said.
In a second proposal, Vail Resorts offered to sell the town another resort-owned parking lot, the Gold Rush parking lot across the street from the North and South Gondola Lots, for $7 million, provided the town builds a parking garage with at least 860 parking spaces on the property.
The town would have to construct a bridge or tramway connecting Gold Rush to the North Gondola Lot and Main Street, according to the proposed agreement. Once built, the town would own the property and the parking structure, controlling its operations and paying all operational and maintenance costs.
If the town has any interest in Gold Rush, elected officials haven't shown it yet. Town council has repeatedly rejected the idea, based on the anticipated high cost of construction and other concerns. For the mayor, Gold Rush is a "non-starter."
"It's too expensive," Mamula said of the parking lot, adding that another major issue there would be getting people across the street. The town already has that problem at Park Avenue and council has no desire to replicate it at Gold Rush.
Attention then turns back to the South Gondola lot.
For Mamula, there could be some "wiggle room" on the town's part in allowing Vail Resorts control over designs and other features of a parking garage on the property, but he doesn't see much leeway on who controls its operations.
If negotiations are unsuccessful, council will likely consider building "intercept" parking structures on the outskirts of town, Mamula said, with the idea of capturing traffic before it gets into the downtown area and using public transportation to ferry visitors into the town core.