Summit Daily editorial: What happened to Vail Resorts’ $30 million housing pledge?
June 20, 2017
It was Christmas come early in December of 2015 when Vail Resorts unwrapped a big, $30 million care package for its mountain communities. The company said the money would seed workforce-housing development in ski towns across California, Utah and Colorado. The announcement was widely hailed as a show of leadership and local commitment.
"It's really exciting to see one of the largest employers in the county take such a strong leadership role on this critical matter," Gary Martinez, then-Summit County manager, said at the time.
We regarded Vail's pledge in much the same way — they were stepping up and finally addressing the housing crisis. But more than 18 months later, it is unclear how the country's most profitable ski company is living up to its promise.
"I don't know where any of that money has gone," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier recently told the Daily. "They have talked about it in press releases over and over, but I haven't seen where they've actually put in money."
The Summit Daily has repeatedly asked Vail where the $30 million has gone. The answer we received this week was surprising — zero dollars so far. That's especially disappointing given what we learned this week: The county this month reached out to Vail to help split some of the costs for the Village at Wintergreen complex in Keystone. The company flatly denied the request, leaving Summit County and its taxpayers on the hook for $300,000 for a housing project largely intended to serve ski industry workers. Those dollars could set the Wintergreen project up for federal subsidies allowing for 40 low-income rentals units, which the county desperately wants in the mix of housing options.
We applaud the county for biting the bullet and doing what was right for our workforce. However, it appears that they should have seen this snub coming.
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Vail's rebuff came on the heels of a contentious, but ultimately successful negotiation with the county to clear the way for Wintergreen, a planned 196-unit development on more than 28 acres of resort-owned land.
While Vail owns the property, it is leasing it to a development company for $35,000 annually over 100 years. That company, Gorman & Co., is securing the financing to build and operate the complex.
It's a seemingly sweet deal for Vail: Rent checks from Gorman more than cover property taxes and resort workers will now have more affordable housing options. Additionally, Wintergreen buys Vail a pile of employee-housing credits that clear the way for lucrative commercial development for years to come.
Given the circumstances, the county's ask of $150,000 does not seem unreasonable. Vail, perhaps knowing that they outmaneuvered the county, instead left taxpayers holding the bag. County officials were understandably flummoxed.
Vail's relationship with Summit County governments and communities continues to curdle. If the rancorous battle with Breckenridge over lift-ticket taxes and parking-garage promises wasn't bad enough, we're now witnessing the bonds of trust disintegrate at a time when we need them the most.
It's time that Vail shoots straight on its commitment to workforce housing. Announcing $30 million in funding more than a year and half ago brought the company local acclaim, but we've yet to see accountability.
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members.