Breck, Vail Resorts squabble over parking

Spring season extended at Breckenridge Ski Area. PHOTO COURTESY VAIL RESORTS/JACK AFFLECK.
 Breckenridge Ski Area. PHOTO COURTESY VAIL RESORTS/JACK AFFLECK.

Lift-ticket tax proposal stirs up bad blood

Staff Report

FRISCO — The long-running love-hate soap opera between Breckenridge and Vail Resorts took a nasty turn this week, as town officials vowed to forge ahead with putting an admissions (lift-ticket) tax on the November ballot, while the resort company questioned the town’s legal authority to do so.

At issue, according to Breckenridge, is an urgent need to address parking and transit issues — something the town should have started addressing 15 years ago. Based on community input, town officials say, the best path forward is to build a parking structure on F-Lot and to boost transit options.

To do that, the town wants to establish a new revenue stream by taxing lift tickets and other for-profit attractions. But Breckenridge and Vail Resorts have apparently failed to find common ground. In a press release, Mayor John Warner said ongoing negotiations have failed, leaving the town no option but to pursue voter approval for a new tax in the fall.

At a meeting last week, Vail Resorts execs “refused to offer any type of long-term funding stream critical to implementing the Town’s comprehensive Parking and Transit Plan,” the town said.

“While we appreciate Vail’s expression (of support) for a public/private partnership to help fund a parking garage, there was no specific offer made, and they clearly stated there was no interest in partnering on any long term funding towards the comprehensive parking and transit plan; that doesn’t solve the problem,” Warner said.

“Frankly, I am disappointed that they do not understand the need to work collaboratively on a comprehensive parking and transit plan. They seem to think that just building a garage – at a size Vail deems as adequate – will solve the problem. It won’t. The problem is more than just parking. A garage is just one step in the implementation of a comprehensive plan. Enhanced transit is a key element as well, and these solutions require a sustainable resource – an ongoing revenue stream that we don’t have.”

Vail Resorts fired back with a press release of its own:

“First, and most importantly, Vail Resorts has offered to contribute a significant majority of the cost of a new public parking garage, and do so in a way that will not pass along those costs to Breckenridge Ski Resort guests,” said Kristin Kenney Williams, VP of mountain community affairs.

Vail Resorts said the proposed 900-space F-Lot structure is too big and would cause unspecified ancillary problems. Instead, VR said it would consider building a structure on the South Gondola Lot, which could create more spaces at a lower cost and avoid traffic and visual concerns related to building a parking structure on F-Lot.

“Unfortunately, the Town Council has rejected all of these proposals. Rather, it is clear that the Town is solely focused on increasing their tax revenue, rather than on solving problems. The Town has not even fully designed the parking structure, yet is rushing ahead to find funding for that effort and a laundry list of as yet undefined improvements,” Vail Resorts said.

Town officials have long pointed over the pass to Vail, where lift tickets are taxed specifically to fund transit and parking.

“Vail Resorts pays that tax to the Town of Vail to solve parking and transit issues but apparently not to Breckenridge,” Council member Mark Burke said. “We have met nearly a dozen times specifically on this issue, and quite frankly I’m disappointed and offended that we don’t have an agreement for long-term solutions.”

The town’s vision for parking and transit  also includes a pedestrian bridge over Park Avenue, a round-a-bout on Village Road at Park Avenue and enhanced free bus service. The Town currently spends over $3 million annually on parking and transit. Implementation of the plan would require an additional $4 million to $6 million annually.

“We have heard from the citizens of Breckenridge,” said Council Member Wendy Wolfe. “We convened a citizen Parking and Transit Taskforce, we have had community forums and coffee talks, and we commissioned a poll: Overwhelmingly the citizens said they want these problems solved and we want the community to help us decide.”

Vail Resorts said the proposed tax isn’t fair because it will be paid by all
resort guests in Breckenridge, including season pass holders, which actually seems pretty fair.

“Imposing a tax on all skiers and snowboarders to pay for a garage that many will never use is not appropriate. Further, the Town Council is proposing a massive overall tax increase, one that’s not justified given the Town’s strong financial position, with more than $60 million in cash reserves,” The VR press release states. “Every town has a wish list they want to address. But, governments cannot just keep taxing to pay for them all, they need to make fiscally responsible choices …

“It is inappropriate for the Town of Breckenridge of today to compare itself to the Town of Vail in 1966. It is equally inappropriate to suggest that the Town of Breckenridge should have a tax just because it exists in another community in Colorado. Finally, almost all of Breckenridge Ski Resort is on federal land, and it’s not clear the Town has the legal right to impose a tax on skiers and snowboarders to use their public lands … Great public/private partnerships require real collaboration and making hard choices, something the Town of Breckenridge has refused to do. We are very disappointed that the Town has refused our offer of private funding and instead are rushing ahead to tax all Breckenridge skiers and snowboarders.”

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