Current Breckenridge parking solutions harm the guest experience (column)
Special to the Daily
I have been the head of mountain operations at Breckenridge for six years, and, during that time, I have worked closely with town staff to improve not only the parking and transportation challenges, but also the overall guest experience. It’s for that reason that I appreciate the town focusing on the issue of parking for our guests during the ski season and why I was excited to participate with the Parking & Transit Task Force.
I am part of a large company that has a proven process for planning complex projects, and I appreciate the time it takes to weigh the interests of many stakeholders. Just like the time our company takes for any of our big projects and having just sat through the town’s two community meetings on parking, the town should slow down and ensure all aspects of any solution are well thought out and given ample time for community review.
First, locating a 900-car parking garage on the F-lot is no small project, with a potentially huge impact and numerous unintended consequences, potentially creating more traffic and congestion through Park Avenue and at the Quicksilver lift at the base of Peak 9. It’s highly unlikely that a 900-car garage will fill more than a few days a year — if at all — so, it’s not clear that this massive structure really serves a purpose. The town has also expressed minimal interest in additional findings from the task force I participated in, particularly our recommendations around metered parking as a first step. For a transit solution to work, I think they need to adopt a holistic approach and not just fixate on a single recommendation.
Second, the town has indicated that it intends to put a lift ticket tax on the ballot to try and raise “9 figures” from the Breckenridge guest to pay for this garage and numerous other unspecified projects (essentially, a $100 million parking tax.) These funds would be on top of the over $60 million the town already has in reserves and the excess cash they generate each year (And, according to the Breckenridge Tourism Office, this summer is on pace to be a record-breaking summer in lodging and sales tax collection.) Ultimately, the town is proposing to saddle the Breckenridge guest with a $100 million parking tax to pay for a garage and then charge the Breckenridge guest $12 per day to actually park there. All this, even though the town is in a very strong financial position, the envy of most towns in Colorado. To suggest that taxing and charging the Breckenridge guest will improve the guest experience is nonsense, particularly since these guests are already responsible for the vast majority of all of the town’s tax collections.
The town has also tried to position this as being about Vail Resorts. But, it’s not. It’s about our collective guest. Our company already offered to be a partner in a specific parking solution. But, the town is set on creating a $100 million new and unending revenue stream to further increase their reserves. And the parking project they are proposing appears to be designed mostly just to find a home for all that new money. Our town manager recently said the council is focused on improving the guest experience, even if there are just two people parked in that garage. While I, more than anyone, appreciate the importance of focusing on every guest, that statement is not fiscally responsible.
Every dollar that gets spent, whether our own money, or taxpayer money, should be scrubbed and reviewed in detail and with care. Sometimes, when times are good, people stop appreciating the value of a dollar — but that usually means bad times are coming. It is clear that the town has already begun its campaign for this effort, hiring consultants, creating a snazzy logo and producing buttons and signs. I certainly hope cooler heads can prevail, and this dialogue can become more sensible. I worry that, otherwise, one day, we will look back and see this as the moment where Breckenridge lost its way and forgot about fiscal responsibility and how to protect our guest.
Gary Shimanowitz is vice president of mountain operations at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
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