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June 15, 2007 — Mark Masinter has a picture of himself as a youngster in a little black cowboy hat standing in front of Manor Vail with his dad in 1971. Thirty-six years later the 43-year-old Texas developer has a chance to wear a white hat as he rides into town to remake the Lionshead Parking Structure.
The most ambitious single redevelopment plan in Vail’s history at a projected $620 million, the project would redefine the dated Lionshead area of Vail (where the gondola originates) in such dramatic terms that Masinter frames it as a bold new gateway into the nation’s top-ranked ski resort.
But it didn’t start in such grandiose terms. Rather, Masinter, a lifelong Vail skier and vacationer who grew up in Atlanta but now lives in Dallas, merely wanted to do something in his favorite ski town that he and his family of five could be proud of. A couple of years ago he began walking the streets of Vail looking at various buildings and parts of town and forming the foundations of dream.
“The epiphany that I had was staring at these two major parking structures in Vail, and it wasn’t logical to me. You could use that air, if you will, above those parking spaces for something better than what they’re currently being used for,” says Masinter. “They are not the proper welcome to the greatest ski resort in the world, and then if you focus on the Lionshead parking garage in particular, that to me felt like that was the part of town that needed the healing.”
Already the subject of a massive redevelopment push, chiefly in the form of Vail Resorts’ Arrabelle at Vail Square, Lionshead is an area of town made up of pre-stressed concrete monoliths in the mold of the modern European ski resorts, and many deemed it obsolete and ugly virtually from the time it was completed in the late 60’s.
Masinter’s visionary plan would sink Lionshead’s main public parking structure, built on town-owned land in 1981, beneath street level and pump up the number of spaces from 1,150 to more than 2,100 (1,749 of them public). Then his Open Hospitality Partners, in a joint venture with Ross Perot, Jr.’s Hillwood development company, would fill the airspace above with hotels, shops, restaurants, condos and a convention center.
“This is my dream. All of my best friends and family know this is my dream, and how often do you actually get to live your dream?” Masinter says. “That’s why I put every ounce of passion into this, because I wanted it that bad.”
Masinter first took his proposal to councilman Greg Moffet, who encouraged him to pursue it further. He then ran it past the slightly more skeptical audience of Mayor Rod Slifer, town manager Stan Zemler and executives at Vail Resorts, who have a say in the structure’s fate because the ski company originally donated the land to the town and absolutely needs it to remain a public parking facility.
When Masinter brought Starwood Hotels – owners of the St. Regis and W brands - into the mix, skeptics started the lengthy conversion to believers. A site visit to Dallas’s Victory Park - a Hillwood mixed-use residential, retail and hotel project that’s home to the professional sports venue, American Airlines Center – seemingly sealed the deal. On March 20 the Vail Town Council voted 6-1 to hammer out an agreement with Open/Hillwood.
Open/Hillwood’s plan calls for 60,000 square feet of retail; a 34,000-square-foot convention center that converts into a performing arts venue; a 120-room St. Regis Hotel with 50 branded condos, 25 fractional units, 4,880 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant and a Remede spa; and a 120-room W Hotel with 50 branded condos, 5,370 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant and Bliss spa.
It’s now the only proposal on the table but last winter Open/Hillwood was locked in a showdown with hometown frontrunners East West Partners. The company that built much of Beaver Creek and is run by former Vail Associates president Harry Frampton came late to the game but gave Masinter a bit of a scare before finally pulling out in February.
“Harry and his partners have done not only great development in this community but have been great participants in this community, so he had wonderful political capital - political capital that I don’t have - so he had a great plan, a great concept, and yeah, I was concerned. I expected the competition, but I was ready.”
Now, on the verge of being handed the keys to the city, Masinter, the kid in the black hat who’s been skiing here ever since, knows he has to deliver.
“I want to be a stakeholder in this community, I want to be a difference maker in this community, and if we prove ourselves to be that, then there will be more to come, and if we don’t, we don’t deserve it.”
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