Vail Resorts backpedals on higher occupancy employee rentals

Vail Resorts, Inc. reversed course on Wednesday, Dec. 16, over its decision to increase density in the Tenderfoot workforce housing apartments in Keystone, no longer requiring tenants to take on roommates and bunk beds.
Mark Fox / File photo |

The day after hosting two hour-long, closed-door meetings with groups of employees to inform them they would be receiving roommates to help combat the workforce housing struggles in Summit County, Vail Resorts, Inc. has reversed course.

That meeting at Keystone’s Mountain House, where personnel representing the Broomfield-based resort company notified workforce residents that the Tenderfoot properties in Keystone would see the addition of approximately 100 more residents to two of the development’s three buildings, was especially heated. Specifically, two-bedroom units would go to four-person occupancy with bunk beds, and three-bedroom apartments to five people. There was also talk that a similar increase may take place at Breckenridge Terrace.

After the news, Vail officials were often forced to speak over boos and loud jeers during a question-and-answer session they said was provided to receive feedback to potentially change the policy. This sparked a range of emotions in the audience, from cursing to talk of a walkout and even tears. Several in attendance later stated it was clearly represented that the shift to “increased density” was both “set in stone” and “a last resort” — rather than the voluntary process with financial benefits that Vail is now attempting to portray it as.

“The meeting last night tried to make it seem like we were part of the planning process,” one upset employee told the Summit Daily. “They kept saying that. The thing that really, really got me was they said it was a last resort. But they didn’t ask for volunteers. So to me, that’s not a last resort.”

“We were completely blindsided by the scale of what was proposed.” Thad Noll county assistant manager

(Because Vail Resorts has a restrictive policy that prevents employees from speaking to the media without first receiving approval from Vail higher ups, the names of employees quoted have been withheld, for fear each would face reprisal. “Only members of the Company’s public relations department are permitted to provide explanations or comments to the press,” the employee handbook reads.)

“If they’re saying now that it’s voluntary,” this employee continued, “that hasn’t been passed on to anyone I’ve talked to yet. That is not true. They thought that cold-calling people, putting them on a list, was more effective than asking for volunteers.”

The employee was referring to a list of pre-determined tenants who would be impacted by Vail’s initial housing plan, with a printed Excel spreadsheet shown to workers after the meeting on Tuesday night. That document was supplied by Greg Mock of Pinnacle Property Management, the company in charge of overseeing the resort company’s 1,100 workforce units throughout its four Colorado resorts – Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Vail.

The same employee said he was one who approached Mock with a roommate to inquire if there was any way that this policy would not move forward. Mock replied, according to the employee, “No. This is what’s happening. This is set in stone.”

Since that time, Vail has apparently backpedaled on its initial plan. In a statement purporting to clarify a story the Summit Daily published on Wednesday, Dec. 16, Vail officials said that employee feedback has helped them hash out a different proposal.

“We are not forcing anyone to double up in our employee housing units,” said Mark Gasta, chief people office of Vail Resorts, in the statement. “In order to provide affordable housing this season for as many employees as possible while remaining compliant with building code, we are offering financial incentives to employees who volunteer to take on an additional bed and roommate. It is a completely voluntary program, and those employees who do not want an additional bed added to their unit will not be required to do so.”

The statement went on to say Vail Resorts always tries to do what’s right for its employees and will continue to look for more permanent housing options for its workforce.

‘We were completely Blindsided’

Vail’s presentation Tuesday night, first reported by the Summit Daily, came as a shock to its workforce and the county alike. Despite Vail officials stating at the meeting they had been working with the county government to come to this decision, Thad Noll, county assistant manager, disputed that assertion.

“We were completely blindsided by the scale of what was proposed,” he said. “It’s approximately double of any proposal that we had heard from them prior to today.”

He explained the county and Vail Resorts had early discussions in October about the possibility of one bed per unit at the Tenderfoot buildings after a Vail employee first approached the local government about a letter posted on his apartment door noting the occupancy increase.

“We felt right away that it was a zoning violation,” said Noll, “because of the language of the PUD. We began immediately talking to their staff, that this is a problem, that you’re not allowed to do this.” A PUD is a planned unit development that outlines the rules determining “what’s allowed, what’s not” for the use of land and space.

By November, Vail had given up on the idea. Then with the Dec. 2 announcement of a $30 million pledge to new affordable workforce housing near its resort properties in Colorado, California and Utah, suddenly it was back on the table by the time the corporate arm of the resort and Keystone officials again met with the county government on Dec. 7.

Vail offered no information to employees in an invitation for two meetings about a week later, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, except that each employee’s presence was requested and that they would be served a meal. That’s when the resort company upped the ante outside of the county’s knowledge.

“That’s a complete new thing,” reiterated Noll. “We’re just kind of disappointed with the way they broke this, the way that it happened — non-communication. In the spirit of trying to work together to figure out this (housing) crunch, let’s all be open and honest. We’re not feeling that’s happening.”

Before speaking with Vail representatives later in the day, the county prepared its building official to join the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue (LDFD) fire marshal over at the Tenderfoot properties to assess if, per Vail’s claims in the affirmative on Tuesday night, the proposed increased occupancy of the units would meet building and fire codes. A LDFD spokesperson said he anticipated that happening in the next couple days if it can be coordinated with Vail Resorts and its employees before the year-end holidays.

“We have a duty to the residents to make sure it’s safe,” Noll said, “and we’re working diligently to take action we should take to make it right.”

Workers remain disgruntled over the actions the resort company — their employer — took Tuesday night, saying the way in which the process was undertaken was perhaps the most frustrating part.

“I sacrificed a lot to come here,” said another employee from outside of Colorado who also asked not to be named. “This is the lowest paid job I’ve had since I was 16. I easily could have taken a job at home. That experience of a lifetime that they preach, it’s real. But I would not have come out if I didn’t have my own room. Not a chance. But now I’m already here.”

The subject of money was another aspect of Vail’s original scheme put forth Tuesday in Keystone that didn’t sit well. The discounted fee each employee pays to live in Tenderfoot is $460 per month. Those who would be impacted with a roommate were offered a reduced rate of $330 each. But three tenants in a unit at the current price equals $1,380, while five people at the proposed lower rate totals $1,650. So the resort would actually profit further from stacking tenants on top of each other.

The problems with limited workforce housing in Summit County remain, even with Vail’s sudden change of direction away from the mandatory roommates proffered Tuesday night.

“We all recognize there’s a serious housing crunch here in the county,” said Noll. “Honestly, I believe (Vail) is committed to long-term housing. Besides the $30 million, they have a lot of land at Keystone they can do a lot with, with very little money. They’re scrambling to kind of figure something out in the very short term. But the way it was presented was less than ideal.”

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