Goar: Vail Resorts leading the charge to address housing crisis (column)
June 25, 2017
The Summit Daily News got it wrong with its recent editorial, "What happened to Vail Resorts' $30 million housing pledge?" and I want to set the record straight. I know first-hand that Vail Resorts is committing a tremendous amount of time, money and energy to bring on line affordable workforce housing in our mountain communities across Colorado, Utah and California. The Wintergreen project with 196 units of affordable workforce housing is a great example of our efforts, and what it takes to get this done. I don't know of any other group in Summit County that is as far along in building new workforce housing as the Wintergreen development.
In 2015, Vail Resorts made a $30 million commitment to our mountain resort communities in the form of contributing dollars, land and/or long-term master lease agreements to spur private-public partnerships for new workforce housing. We knew then that multiple challenges lay ahead and these projects would take years to complete. For the Summit Daily News to expect Vail Resorts — or anyone else — to envision, plan, obtain approval, design and build large-scale affordable housing in less than 18 months is absurd.
We should celebrate that Vail Resorts' commitment brought to fruition the Wintergreen project. Vail Resorts partnered with Gorman & Co., a leading, national affordable housing developer, and together, we created a bold vision on more than 28 acres of Vail Resorts' land. We agreed to lease these 28 acres for 99 years to the developer who has publicly said about the project, "Vail Resorts is bringing quite a bit to the table… We couldn't have funded the project and could not make it work financially if we had to make an outright acquisition of that land." (Summit Daily News, June 19, 2017) Without the land, there would be no Wintergreen project or the 196 new units on that land. Vail Resorts will invest more than $6 million in a master lease for 36 of the units to house resort employees. This means 80 percent of the new affordable workforce units to be constructed at Wintergreen on Vail Resorts' land will be available to employees throughout Summit County.
Our vision did not happen overnight. It took two years of work with Summit County staff and elected officials. In the midst of our work on Wintergreen, Vail Resorts supported the county's November ballot measure to increase the sales tax to raise annually about $8 million to fund the county's Lake Hill affordable housing project. Unfortunately, the county woefully underestimated infrastructure costs by millions of dollars and that project is on hold — further demonstrating the difficulty of bringing these projects on line. We've seen no other major businesses step up to build, fund or contribute to affordable workforce projects — but we have heard of many smaller businesses working to acquire single-family homes for their employees. We applaud those efforts as it demonstrates the determination of local leaders to find creative solutions to a community-wide challenge.
As Gorman indicated all along, in order to create a competitive application for a federally subsidized portion of the project to lower rental rates, Gorman would need Summit County financial support. For the Summit Daily News to suggest that Vail Resorts has done nothing or that the county is footing the bill with a $300,000 contribution, is irresponsible. The county's contribution, while small in the overall cost of the project, is welcome and very helpful in the highly competitive federal-subsidy application process.
I am proud of Vail Resorts' leadership in creating new workforce housing for our community, particularly when the county isn't making any progress. We also know how critically important it is to work together with fellow community leaders, elected officials and business partners. Vail Resorts and Gorman stepped up to the challenge to bring to life Wintergreen and 196 units on 28 acres. Perhaps the Summit Daily News could spend some of its energy and words on helping find solutions rather than sitting on the side line criticizing problem-solvers. We hope other community leaders — including the Summit Daily News — will be inspired to join us in meeting this challenge.
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Mike Goar is the vice president and COO of Keystone Resort.
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