VAIL, Colorado - The Vail Valley Partnership is focused on group business from the medical field so much that it has a dedicated staff member who spends time targeting that market.That's what Chris Romer, the Vail Valley Partnership's executive director, told the Vail Economic Advisory Council Tuesday morning after Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler spoke to the economic benefits of the public-private partnership between the town, Vail Valley Medical Center, Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute."We started, with the Vail Local Marketing District, really trying to recruit medical groups and meetings," Romer said. "Probably about 18 months ago, we made it a significant part of our group sales effort. ... In that short time, it's grown to over 1/4 of our group business."And that's before the new medical office building has even broken ground. The public-private deal, which was officially announced last year, is going to build a new town hall and separate medical office building on the existing town of Vail municipal site. Both projects are already going through the town's approval process, and Town Manager Stan Zemler said both buildings are "pretty far along" in terms of building design, adding he expects the projects to break ground sometime around next June.Just a few years ago, the partnership may not have seemed possible as the Vail Valley Medical Center moved forward with internal discussions to move the hospital out of Vail.Zemler and then-mayor Dick Cleveland initiated conversations with the board because they were concerned about how far talks of moving the hospital had progressed."The hospital board was strongly in favor of moving," Zemler said. "It started as a regular meeting, then the idea resurfaced of the possibility of a joint venture."Zemler said that looking at a nonprofit entity like the hospital can be hard when trying to determine direct economic benefits to the town. It's hard to recognize the benefits up front, he said, because they don't pay a lot of taxes and tend to therefore look like "not tremendous economic generators."Analysis by Ford Frick, of BBC Research and Consulting, and also by the medical entities themselves proved otherwise, though. The hospital and medical groups involved in the partnership could be as much as 6 percent of the town's economic base, Zemler said, and the groups also equate to the town's second largest employer behind Vail Resorts."It became very clear that they're a very important economic driver," Zemler said. "... A big part of why we were able to pursue this initiative was its economic value."It's a value that Romer already thinks has potential, especially because of the timing of medical conferences and meetings. Romer said they're typically mid-week events - Sunday through Wednesday - a time period the town of Vail has plenty of room to grow its business, even during winter months."Any part of the year we could use Sunday-to-Wednesday business," Romer said. Romer already has interest from the medical community, too, adding that they "couldn't be more open to the conversation."While Vail isn't equipped for some of the larger conferences that many of the town's doctors attend elsewhere, Vail can handle the 250-person meeting or conference "quite well," Romer said.Advisory council member Michael Kurz, who also serves on the town's Planning and Environmental Commission, is encouraged to see the excitement from the medical community, too. Kurz added that the project itself is challenging because of site constraints and that town planners "have to be very careful with this one."Zemler cited some of the ongoing challenges of the project that include where to relocate the medical center's helipad, as well as the proposed pedestrian overpass to connect the hospital to the office building and the "challenges associated with going over a CDOT-controlled roadway." "It's a hard project," Zemler said. "... We would love to be ready to start breaking ground by June. We're well into the process, but we clearly have hurdles and things we need to work out."Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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