President - Alan Kosloff     Secretary - Ellie Caulkins    Treasurer - Patrick Gramm    Executive Director  -  Jim Lamont

Directors:  Judith Berkowitz  -  Dolph Bridgewater  -  Richard Conn  -  Bob Galvin  -  Ron Langley

Eugene Mercy  -  Bill Morton  -  Trygve Myhren  -  Gretta Parks


To:            Alan Kosloff, Board of Directors, Membership, and Interested Parties

From:        Jim Lamont

Date:         December 29, 2005

RE:           Town of Vail 2005 Election Report

 Executive Summary: A coalition, including the Homeowners Association was successful in decisively defeating the Vail Conference Center proposal by 264 votes (806 to 542).  The Charter Amendment to designate the Eagle County District Court, rather than the Vail Municipal Court as the arbitrator of zoning disputes was narrowly approved by 21 votes.  Had it failed, the Town of Vail would have become both judge and jury on all zoning matters.   

The Town of Vail, soon after the Association publicly called for reforms in the Town’s fair campaign and election practices, determined that a candidate for council had to withdraw from the race, because of term limit requirements imposed by the state constitution.   The Town had not updated its election requirements to conform to a referendum amending the Colorado constitution in the late 1990’s.  The Town of Vail functions under a Home Rule Charter, giving it near total autonomy from state authority.  However, it is still subject to the requirements of the state constitution.  There were other questionable activities during the election, which reforms of ethical and fair campaign practices could correct.  

Importantly, the election changed the complexion of the Council, potentially opening the way for major debate over the community’s growth control regulations.  Incumbents Hitt and Moffet were reelected. Donovan and Cleveland were defeated. Former councilman Foley was returned to office, along with the third time candidate Gordon.  The new Council selected Rod Slifer, Mayor and Farrow Hitt, Mayor Pro Temp.  

On the issues, of those newly elected to office, three openly favored, without qualification, Crossroads as proposed, while the Conference Center was split down the middle.  The unsuccessful incumbents Donovan and Cleveland opposed both Crossroads and the Conference Center.  The remainder of the field, Aikens, Slack, and Pittman favored both Crossroads and the Conference Center.  Cleveland’s defeat has displeased the some councilpersons to the point it could adversely affect support for pending redevelopment projects, particularly if there is an attempt to take advantage of the outcome of the election.   

As it stands, disgruntled developers appear to have set in motion an agenda that could increase debate about development community.  The resulting controversy could have an opposite outcome than those they intended.  Significantly, to the detriment of the entire community, it could create a backlash that derails the community’s current willingness to support well-planned redevelopments.  The backlash could also stimulate unintended consequences leading to changes that offset the political influence of transients voting in Vail elections.  A transient voter typically, does not own real property, registers to vote after complying with the 30-day residency requirement and abandons the community in less than a year. 

It is reported some of these developers did not support approval of the proposed Conference Center.  Some, perhaps, saw it in opposition with their personal and openly spoken agenda to gain a public subsidy to put a similar facility in their own pending redevelopment proposal.  The collective advocacy of these developers against the Center could partially explain the depth of the vote against the proposition and the seeming paradox in the outcome of the Council elections.  

Conference Center Defeat and Fallout: One reason, some observers speculate, the Conference Center was defeated is because the proponents campaign strategy was over-the-top in image and cost.  The local newspaper’s ongoing and overly partisan editorial stance, favoring the proposition, added to the public distrust about an issue that many voters saw as being promoted by the community’s larger businesses.  The voters rejected the need to “quantitatively” diversify the community’s economy by subsidizing the convention and conference trade.  They, instead appeared, to desire putting greater emphasis on continuing the redevelopment of “qualitative” resort facilities as the more appropriate course to follow.   

It is doubtful that the conference center will be on the public agenda in the near term.  The decision of how to disperse the $7 million in tax revenues already collected for the Center has become the topic of public debate.  The Council can either temporarily reduce sales tax rates to offset the gain in revenues or present a proposition to the voters to reallocate the funds to another project.  A faction has already stepped forward to advocate the building of a typical suburban recreation center, such as exists in Avon.  The response from some in the business community is that they are unreceptive to use revenues derived for economic development on recreational facilities for local residents.   

It remains to be seen if the center’s decisive defeat will cause realignment in the leadership of the Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau (VVTCB) and business interests.  The VVTCB is a pervasive force in the Vail business community.  The VVTCB has advocated shifting the community’s business plan to a greater dependence upon a publicly subsidized conference and convention center since the early 1980’s.  In those decades, twice the voters conclusively defeated the concept and proponents failed to gain political support, on several occasions, to bring it before the voters.  Proponents, in their post-election commentaries, seem intent on resurrecting the matter again, as soon as possible.   

Critics, who fault the outgoing Council for not beginning construction in 2001, fail to recognize that the voters approved a proposal that had neither a definitive business plan nor architectural design with predictable construction costs.  It was a calculated political strategy by proponents to present voters with a concept that lacked definition.  Even in 2001, a time when the community was obsessed with its economic survival, a publicly subsidized conference center received marginal voter support.  The lack of a reliable proposal caused the three-year delay to prepare a viable business and an architectural plan with predictable operational and construction costs.  The difference between a concept and a definitive plan proved to be $20 million.   

Until there is a realigning of those concerned about the community’s economic and business interests, the continued distraction over public subsidies for repetitive efforts, which are marginally beneficial, will prevent other more productive business models, directed towards the national and international destination guest market, from gaining traction.  There are a number of productive destination guest markets to pursue that could be built upon the community’s resort assets and sophisticated international appeal.   There is a need to reorganize business interest around resort assets now under construction that create programs, which have the potential to expand Vail’s destination guest market into more productive arenas.   

Town Council Election:  It is the view of some political observers that it was a coalition of disgruntled developers who successfully unseated Donovan and Cleveland, because of both incumbents’ role in the Town Council 4 to 3 rejection of a proposal to redevelop the Crossroads Shopping Center.   It is reported that these developers enrolled sufficient numbers of new voters, who wanted the amenities proposed for Crossroads, to change the complexion of the Council.  In many instances the new voters are transient, the meet the 30 day residency requirement, but permanently leave the community within a year.  They have marginal attachment to the community and are not concerned with the complexities of zoning regulations. The emergence of a block of young voters is a new and growing phenomenon for Vail.   

Conclusion: Once, the first of a new class of taller and more massive buildings begin to take shape on the community’s skyline, the debate over growth will intensify.  If, history is a guide, there will be reaction from property owners that will seek to slow down growth and reduce zoning densities.  Such is now the circumstance in Eagle County.  Without a clear and compelling vision of the future, it can be expected that the move to slow growth with gather force.  

There was no overwhelming mandate conferred on the Council by the electorate. There was a narrow margin of 130 votes (1,356 cast) between the top seven finalists in a field of nine candidates. The margin falls near the reported number of newly registered voters reportedly recruited by the disgruntled developers.   

The Council’s goals are complicated because political leaders will soon have their sights set on the five Council seats that will be vacant in the 2007 election.  It appears from the discussion at the Town Council’s recent retreat that it is their desire to move forward by seeking to build a broadly based consensus upon a more well-defined vision for the community long-term future.