Colorado’s ski resorts in general — and Vail in particular — have had a long and torrid love affair with all things Texan. Ever since the last oil boom and bust of the 1980s, Coloradans have embraced Texans as skiers, second homeowners and major infrastructure investors.
In fact, when Texas technology tycoon Ross Perot (and Vail homeowner) ran for president in 1992, he very nearly carried surrounding Eagle County (3,821 votes to Bill Clinton’s 3,870). Now his son, Ross Perot Jr., is reportedly backing a $900 million project to dramatically remake Vail’s aging and outdated Lionshead area.
The project would put all of the town-owned Lionshead parking garage underground and cap it with a W. Hotel, a St. Regis hotel, a conference center, shops, restaurants and condos. Perot’s Hillwood Capital is the big money behind Dallas developer Open Hospitality, which also wants to build a $60 million ice arena in Vail to house a Central Hockey League team.
“They’re our capital partner in all the things we’re doing right now, and they always have the option to participate or not participate in anything we do,” Open Hospitality’s Mark Masinter said of Hillwood. “They always get first and last bite at the apple.”
One major hurdle for the project, besides the slowing mountain real estate market? Vail Resorts, which owns and operates Vail ski area, holds a deed restriction on the parking garage because it donated the 6.3-acre parcel to the town in the 1970s.
Ross Perot Jr. has a history in sports arenas and team ownership. He owned the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks in the 1990s before selling them to current owner Mark Cuban. Perot built the American Airlines Center, which houses the Mavericks and National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, with $125 million in public funding after a razor-thin 1998 election (it passed by a mere 1,642 votes).
Perot’s $3 billion Victory Park development in uptown Dallas is widely credited with reviving the formerly blighted area. Now he may do the same for downtown Vail, with some form of urban renewal authority (taxing mechanisms used to fund redevelopment of decaying neighborhoods) under consideration. Hard to think of high-dollar Vail as blighted, but URAs have been used in the past to revive aging ski towns, and deep-pocketed Texans have long been players in Colorado ski towns.