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Big issues float to surface

Kaye Ferry

Oh, it’s been a very busy week for meeting-goers. A lot of really important issues are finally rising to the top after languishing in the many layers of bureaucracy and through seemingly endless series of discussions and compromises. Others seem to be caught in limbo. Let’s start with the Four Seasons. There is a lot of speculation on the street, ranging from lack of financing to simply cold feet after the Jackson Hole property didn’t meet projections. All of the guesswork is interesting but doesn’t solve the problem of a project the town desperately needs that seems to be going if not nowhere, at least not very far in the past year. Then all we have to do is move across the street to the old Vail Village Inn. Apparently it has become a refuge for various and sundry things this summer, not all legal. The fear is that if something doesn’t happen soon, there’ll be a fire or some other disaster that won’t bode well for the community. November is supposedly “D” day for a development that is long past its time and has tried the patience of almost everyone involved with it. Remember, there is a tie to the Four Seasons. If that project closes, the money moves across Vail Road and will help finance the new Vail Plaza Hotel. Let’s hope it happens or that the developer picks up his marbles and plays his game somewhere else. But with all of that said, progress is indeed being made on several fronts. Vail Resorts did a hiccup last week on Lionshead. On Tuesday at Town Council they announced their intention to start relocating the utilities, plus digging and setting the pilings that will support the new parking garage for the core site. By Thursday there was a new, less aggressive plan. Which is the good news. But more than that, it’s the appropriate move. While we all hope that Lionhead gets redeveloped asap, it hasn’t been approved. The approval should be granted before we start digging up the streets. The cart should always stay behind the horse.At the Thursday meeting, the question foremost in the business owners’ minds was what the real start date of construction will be, assuming town approvals this fall. The answer? Before construction can begin on the core site, 50 of the 70 condominium units will have to be sold. That could be tight since sales won’t start until Thanksgiving. Additionally, if the construction is delayed, next summer’s scheduled repair of the gondola will also be pushed back so that the two coincide. Which leaves the merchants in a bit of quandary. Retail orders for next summer will have to be placed long before, so that poses a problem for businesses that need to adjust inventory depending on the decision.One solution, suggested by the Vail Resorts rep, was that everyone tell their friends to ensure brisk sales. As one business manager said, it wouldn’t do much good to tell his friends, as they all live in the trailer park. But just in case you need some new digs, they range from 1,700 to 6,300 square feet at an average of $1,000 per square foot.And finally the conference center. The owner’s rep was hired several months ago. Then by unanimous vote, the architectural firm was chosen. Now the committee has to get down to the nitty gritty. I’ve stayed away from this topic for a long time, ever since Vail Resorts bailed on the Holy Cross site as their contribution. And I still have a lot of questions. But one thing is clear. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, a hole will be dug and the building will go up. I have little doubt about that.The next decisions the committee will have to make are pretty specific. Who will run the place? Who will do the marketing? And who will be responsible for sales?One thing must be perfectly clear when these decisions are made. There can be absolutely no conflicts of interest or overlaps between any of these functions. The easiest to look at is operations. Generally, the skills necessary to run the facility are very different from those needed to market and sell it. And unless there’s someone locally who has specific experience in that area, we’ll probably have to do a search to fill that job.Marketing and sales aren’t quite as clear. We already have several entities that are charged with those responsibilities in other areas, but I’m not sure they could or should have carryover to the conference center. This is a pretty unique animal. Anyone involved in group sales should be entirely separate from the conference center. There should be no financial link between these functions other than independent commission sales.Let me explain. When a group contacts any sales agent in the town, they should have confidence in knowing that they are being directed to the best possible space for their group and not to a space that generates the most income for the booking agent. If the conference center operations and sales or marketing functions all fall to the same entity, conflicts will surely exist. There will be little reason to believe that requests will be given an unbiased assessment as they relate to the spaces available in the town of Vail. Remember, once the conference facility is built, we will still have Donovan Park to sell, as well as all of the other convention spaces that exist now. Booking decisions cannot only make or break the new conference center, they can make or break the existing ones as we move forward. These functions MUST be kept separate in the best interest of the entire community and the conference center’s success. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. Kaye Ferry writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail Colorado


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