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A center opponent misleads

Michael Cacioppo

In 1983, Yours Truly helped lead a group of activists against a proposed Vail conference center. Not because I was opposed to the center, but because I was opposed to the way it was going to be taxed. The then-Vail Town Council refused to change the way it would be taxed. So we kicked their butts in the election and the Congress Hall went down to defeat. The week before that election, I wrote a letter to the editor that said, “If Vail voters support the center, I’d thank them, because it would help me feed my family.” I was in the convention services business, renting audio-visual equipment and booking entertainment. In 2005, the upcoming vote on the new conference center proposal won’t put a dime in my pocket because I no longer provide services to conventions. But Vail voters should support the new proposal, contrary to the garbage put out by former Vail Mayor Rob Ford. Ford, on his Web site, falsely states, “The Vail property owner is the ultimate guarantor of any and all of the debt taken on by the town of Vail, regardless of any lodging tax.” That is patently untrue! There is no property tax tied to this center, none, nada, zero. If Ford would mislead about this, he would mislead about other issues relating to this center. After reading Ford’s falsehoods, I called Matt Mire, the Vail town attorney. I asked Mire if Vail property owners and taxpayers are responsible for “full-faith and credit” on the bonds on the proposed center? Mire responded, after checking with the town’s bond counsel, Dee Wisor: “You’re right, Michael. There is no full faith and credit responsibility” of Vail taxpayers or property owners. Mire agreed with me that the proposed conference center bonds are revenue bonds and not general obligation bonds that require the “full faith and credit” of property owning taxpayers. Mire stated, “The town has only two obligations: to levy the taxes, and to collect the taxes and turn them over to the bond-holders.” And, get this, according to Mire: “The bond-holders have no right to the building.” The town of Vail will still own the building, even if the bonds are defaulted on. According to Mire, in a worst-case scenario, if “global warming occurs, there’s no snow, and no hotel rooms are rented,” the Vail taxpayer is not responsible for one dime to help cover the two revenue sources taxpayers voted in in 2001, to cover the bond-holders. The bond-holders are at risk, not the Vail taxpayer. I repeat, the bond-holders are at risk, not the Vail taxpayer. I asked Mire if the town can sell or rent the building? Mire responded that they could. Oh, to be fair, Mire says that Ford is also concerned about a possible operating loss on the center, not just debt service. In a worst-case scenario, if the town cannot attract enough business to run the center with its proposed operating budget, Mire said, “the town can just close the doors.” I responded that the town already has extra money saved beyond the required reserve fund, which could go to extra years of the operating fund, if needed, because the town has (screwed around) with getting it built, right? “Correct,” Mire responded. Vail has already collected almost four years of voter-approved taxes without building anything yet. Mire also added that the city and county of Denver had a project a while back called the Denver Aquarium, backed by revenue bonds, just like the proposed Vail conference center. Mire said tax revenue sources for payments to Denver bond-holders were insufficient, and the bond-holders asked the Denver City Council to pay the balance. Mire said the Denver council told the bond-holders to “go pound sand.” And, the Vail council can also do this. That’s what no-risk means. Ford’s Web site says, “We (Vail) concentrated on what we know, the ski business. Is now the time to take on so much debt, and leverage our future in a business we have no experience with?” Ford used to sell real estate. What does he know about the conference business? The Marriott, The Cascade, the Lodge, the former Holiday Inn, The Evergreen, The Antlers, Montaneros, etc., have all made a living catering to conferences. Many are conferences that have outgrown those facilities. Many of those conferences are designed to hold meetings prior to skiing and after skiing, to meet Internal Revenue Service requirements as a write-off. My convention services company back in the 1980s serviced 1,100 clients per year, and many of those clients were in the Fortune 1000. Many of those clients want a larger conference center in Vail. They would rather come to Vail than Denver, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Aspen or Crested Butte. They like the convenient access to Vail via Interstate 70 and the Eagle County Airport, to get their people here. The energy in Vail is not what it was in the 1970s and ”80s. Off-seasons have been devastating. When the larger hotels fill from conferences, smaller hotels will get the overflow. Small businesses need fresh conference center money coming into town each week. If town government can realize more tax revenue from a new conference center, they won’t need to raise residents’ taxes in other areas, to take care of basics. In 2005, I would vote “Yes,” because fair taxation doesn’t get any better that this, without any risk to the Vail taxpayer. I didn’t play ball with the hotel operators back in 1983, and it cost me 14 hotel contracts for telling the public the truth about that unfair tax proposal. In November, you should vote “Yes,” because it helps all of Vail, without a shred of risk to the Vail taxpayer, in spite of the nonsense that Rob Ford spews. Frankly, however, part of me wants you to vote “No,” because that ending better fits the book I am writing about the stupidity in Vail over the years. And, that would be good for me! Michael Cacioppo, a former radio talk show host and newspaper publisher, is managing director of BookPlayaDelCarmen.com LLC, a local travel planning consultant on vacations to Mexico. He can be reached at Cacioppo@BookPlayaDelCarmen.comVail, Colorado


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