The following is an editorial in the Denver Post today.
The Town of Breckenridge has a $3.5 million mess on its hands, and seems intent on using revisionist thinking to find its way out of it.
Vail Resorts has agreed to pay the town $3.5 million every year beginning in fiscal year 2017 through a 4.5 percent lift ticket tax that voters approved in November 2015. The owners of Breckenridge Ski Resort came to the table with the town and in good faith agreed not to oppose the tax and to guarantee the tax revenue would be at least that much every year.
Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz says what brought his team to the table was the understanding that the tax revenue would be used to build a large parking garage in the heart of downtown Breckenridge that would also serve the Peak 9 ski lift. According to archives for the Summit Daily News, in the summer of 2015, the unambiguous expectation on the ground was that a new garage was in the offing.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the tax, 1,100 to 223, but now the city is backing away from plans to design and build a downtown parking garage with 500 to 900 spaces.
The turnabout looks bad for the town and sets a bad precedent that should be carefully weighed moving forward.
For once, big corporate attorneys didn’t get it in writing, however. Neither the ballot language nor the agreement with Vail Resorts specifies that a parking garage must be funded by the tax, as the tax also contemplates transit and other improvements.
We’re sympathetic with the current Town Council, which is grappling with the reality that a new study shows that adding parking capacity downtown probably won’t solve the congestion problems that snarl the community during ski season. The new findings and public outcry against the garage have complicated the desire to build the garage.
Shannon Haynes, assistant town manager, argues that the purpose of the tax was to create a long-term funding source to try to solve a massive congestion problem that has plagued the town for years. Asking the ski resort to pick up a share of that burden isn’t unreasonable (or outside the norm for Vail Resorts) given the amount of traffic generated by skiers.
This specific tax, however, is being paid by customers of Breckenridge Resort, not exclusively residents of Breckenridge. Many out-of-state skiers and snowboarders will show up, pay the tax on all lift-ticket sales at the resort (season passes are excluded) and not have increased parking options.
We would argue with its generous new funding stream, and the good-will agreement made with Vail Resorts in mind, that Breckenridge ought to be able to find a way to honor its commitment to building the garage.
Vail Resorts is a member of the community, too, a big employer and economic driver that fuels many businesses in the small mountain town.
Going back on this agreement, even if it wasn’t in writing, sets a bad precedent, not only for the corporate-town relationship, but for ski towns across the country looking for ways the industry can share in the civic burden of infrastructure, affordable housing and community building.
Should enough citizens truly insist that their elected officials renege, then the town ought to at least find some sort of significant compromise that leaves the biggest business in town feeling a little less sore.