Business funding flusters Vail
It also has once again revealed the deep divisions and profound disagreements among the Vail business community.
A pair of Vail outspoken merchants, Kaye Ferry and Steve Rosenthal, have proposed creating a “business improvement district” in Vail. Rosenthal says this would give business owners more control over how they promote themselves rather than relying on funding from the town government, which is likely to shrink after budget cutbacks.
“We don’t want all these things we think are good for the community – the information center, special events, the chamber – we don’t want those to go away,” says Rosenthal, who owns Colorado Footwear.
But Steve Kaufman, an owner of the Tap Room in Vail Village, says he’s deeply skeptical about the idea. One reason, he says, is the Vail Chamber and Business Association, or VCBA – a group in which Ferry and Rosenthal have been heavily involved – has failed to promote the town in his opinion.
“This town has so much to offer and the VCBA hasn’t begun to let people know,” Kaufman says. “Where else in this country can you walk up and down a street and within a couple of blocks, have as many five-star dining establishments? Where else do have 60 liquor licenses in a two-block radius, with so much potential for nightlife?”
The VCBA has been consumed with in-fighting that has short-circuited promotion efforts, Kaufman says.
“It’s nice to have a chamber if it’s doing the job it should be doing,” says Kaufman, adding he backs the larger Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau. “I have found the VCBA to be ineffective and not supportive of local businesses.”
To make the business improvement district a reality, proponents need have to the support of the owners of 50 percent of the commercial property in the town. But because that support could come from just a few large landowners, Rosenthal says, he hopes many smaller business owners will also back the plan.
If enough business owners support the idea, the proposal would then go to the Town Council. Once it’s past the council, members of the district will elect a board that would ask business owners to vote on the level of taxes the improvement district would impose.
“It creates a situation where the business community gets to decide how much they’re going to spend on themselves and how much they charge themselves to do it,” Moffet says. “It creates a level of self-determination for the business community that does not currently exist.”
Taxes are already used in Vail to promote business. A lodging tax that supports the Vail Marketing Board raises approximately $1.4 million a year. A newly passed lodging tax will fund the proposed conference center, which the town and Vail Resorts are currently negotiating how and where to build.
The town also has funded the Vail Chamber and Business Association for the past several years.
But Moffet says the way the town doles out money to promote businesses is flawed.
“We have been asked to judge a beauty contest every year and that’s a horrbile system,” Moffet says. “Were I a village merchant, I would hate to depend on the whims of the Town Council to spend money that’s essential to the survival of my business.”
But Councilman Rod Slifer says a business improvement district might be just another maverick bureaucracy that could stifle progress.
“The way this is set up they wouldn’t answer to anybody for their budget and how their money is spent,” says Slifer, who, aside from being on the council also rents and owns commercial space in Vail. “I’m concerned too much would be spent on overhead.”
The taxes that would fund an improvement district could overly burden business already struggling to make a profit, Slifer adds.
“We’re having a lots of concern about vacant spaces in Vail Village and Lionshead, and many people feel very strongly that rents and costs related to rents are too high,” Slifer says.
The Town Council is scheduled to further discuss the business improvement district at today’s council meeting.
Rosenthal says the improvement district’s board has to be autonomous and that if the town doesn’t agree to that, the proposal is likely doomed.
“We want the council’s support on this completely before we go ahead,” Rosenthal says. “I think what we’re saying is, with anything that has to do with business community, why doesn’t the business community have a right to autonomy?”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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