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June 16, 2007 — Kansas City insurance executive Joe Donnelly has been skiing Vail since 1978, but he and his wife only started “pseudo” shopping for a second home in the valley about six years ago.
They came close to buying a place 15 miles west of Vail in the gorgeous gated enclave of Cordillera, but then they sat down and wrote out a list of things that had become important to them over the course of nearly 30 years visiting the valley.
They wound up buying into the recently completed One Willow Bridge Road project in Vail Village. The list they compiled, it turns out, could best be summed up by an overarching need to be in the heart of the action, within walking distance of the nation’s top-ranked ski resort and surrounded by world-class restaurants, bars and shops.
The serenity, staggering views and solitude of Cordillera were enticing, to be sure; it’s just that in their early 50s peace and quiet weren’t exactly at the top of the Donnelly’s list of lifestyle priorities.
“I guess you could call it a tradeoff, but I would trade being able to go down the elevator and walk one block and be in that bar or restaurant and maybe put up with a little more noise at night than having to get in a car and drive 25 minutes from Cordillera to be in that bar or restaurant,” says Donnelly. “We’re 52, but were not going to bed at 10 o’clock.”
Donnelly surmises he and his wife are part of a growing wave of baby boomers looking for a greater mix of culture, recreation, dining, shopping and amenities who will embrace the super-sizing of Vail Village, where two-story Tyrolean is quickly giving way to taller and much more amenity-loaded lodges.
Take, for example, One Willow Bridge Road. Completed last spring, the luxury condominium project comes complete with its own upscale marketplace on the ground floor, offering gourmet groceries, a crepe bar, ice cream and smoothie counter, wine bar and spirits store.
The 22 condos themselves (10 wholly owned and the rest fractional) are technological marvels, with all the latest gadgetry and an eConcierge system integrated with the adjacent Sonnenalp hotel that allows customization of everything from lighting and heating to Web settings and TV preferences.
Donnelly says that level of luxury was the clincher. That and the chance to own in the epicenter of a multi-billion-dollar renewal spree that includes Vail’s Front Door (13 townhomes, a private club, a new spa at the Lodge at Vail and a new skier services facility near the Vista Bahn chairlift); the Vail Plaza Hotel and Club (100 hotel rooms, 38 fractional units and new spa); a new 120-room Four Seasons hotel; and the 70-condo Solaris Residences, which will include a three-screen movie theater, ice skating and a sports bar with a 10-lane bowling alley and arcade.
All of those projects are dramatically reshaping Vail Village, but the town’s other major ski portal, the Lionshead Mall to the west of the village, may see even more construction over the next decade. Vail Resorts’ signature Arrabelle at Vail Square (a new RockResorts hotel, 67 condos, and a plaza with skier services and ice skating) has been a catalyst for a wave of renewal that includes the 71-unit Ritz-Carlton Residences (complete with a new chairlift) and two massive redevelopment plans – Ever Vail and the Lionshead Parking Structure teardown – that would total another $1.6 billion in capital investment.
To put that sum in perspective, the overall $2.6 billion either currently being spent or proposed for Vail’s renaissance nearly equals the annual gross domestic product of the entire island nation of Fiji. In total, 44 countries have smaller annual GDP’s than will be pumped into Vail over the next decade or so.
Mark Masinter, a founding partner of Dallas-based Open Realty Advisors, has teamed with longtime Vail property owner Ross Perot Jr., of Hillwood Investments, to shepherd through a $620 million plan to increase and submerge the Lionshead garage’s parking spots and top them off with a conference and performing arts center, a W Hotel, a St. Regis, condos, shops and restaurants.
Masinter flew members of the Vail Town Council to Dallas to look at Open/Hillwood’s Victory Park project, which includes a W Hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, offices, condos and retail all built around the American Airlines Center – home to the Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks.
“This (Vail project) is not urban at all; it’s the antithesis of urban, but what we want to do here is the same thing we did in Dallas, which is create a sense of place,” Masinter says. “Victory Park is very appropriate for Dallas. What we’re going to do in Vail will be very appropriate for Vail. It will have all the sensibilities that Vail should have, and that’s what we’re embracing.”
The parking structure project hinges, to some degree, on Vail Resorts’ ambitious plans for West Lionshead. The billion-dollar Ever Vail project, which would connect to Vail Mountain via a new gondola and include its own 600-spot parking garage, is being billed as the largest green-built resort village in North America.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz says the impetus for seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification came in part from town council members, who asked him to give people a reason to want Ever Vail, which would include a hotel and up to 250 condos and 125 fractional units, as well as shops, bars and restaurants.
“Not only do we need to make sure that this is something the town council would want, but it’s what the community would want, the guest would want and what potential buyers would want,” Katz says, “so I think it was a great opportunity to say this is the right thing to do for everybody.”
Another project going for the LEED label is 10 miles west along Interstate 70 at the base of Beaver Creek Resort. Vail’s tony sister mountain this season will connect with the town at its base via a new gondola, and at the terminus of that new gondola is the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa.
Built on 19 acres of riverfront land, the Westin’s main hotel property is well underway, with 120 for-sale studio suites and 95 two- and three-bedroom units, a 20,000-square-foot spa, a wellness center, shops and restaurants set to open in December of 2008. The project will also feature of a mix of townhomes, fractional units and condos in several other buildings to be built in future phases.
“(The Westin is) certainly going to be a very significant catalyst for the town to realize its vision for Main Street and upgrading many of the other buildings in Avon that were built when this was just a suburb of Vail, before even Beaver Creek was around,” says Chuck Madison of project developer East West Partners.
The town is building a new transportation center near the Westin and is planning the “Main Street” pedestrian mall to further spur retail development and create a sense of place in downtown Avon, which for years served a somewhat utilitarian purpose as the valley’s commercial core.
In some ways that mantle has been passed on to the next town west on I-70, Edwards, where a dusty crossroads 15 years ago has been transformed into a vibrant hub of trendy shops, bars and restaurants. Much of the downtown commercial development is the work of Remonov & Co., which built both the Edwards Village and Edwards Corner retail and office complexes.
Now Remonov has hired renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to design a 52-unit residential project behind Edwards Corner that would give the downtown core a truly iconic structure. Libeskind’s design of the Denver Art Museum expansion grabbed headlines in 2006, and he was the winner in 2002 of a competition for the replacement of the World Trade Center at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
“We strongly feel our latest project will truly complete the mountain-chic motif Edwards has come to exemplify over the past decade …,” says Remonov principal Bob Hernreich, part owner of the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise and owner of the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. “Along with Richard Meier and Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind is one of the top three contemporary architects working today, and his contribution to the valley’s design palette would be monumental.”
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