Caution, urgency collide over conference center
Caution and urgency seem ready to collide in the nearly two-year saga of the Vail Conference Center.At a Wednesday evening meeting at the Donovan Pavilion, some residents expressed concern that the town might be in too much of a hurry to issue revenue bonds for the project by the end of the year. That rush might compromise the integrity of the project.But there is a possibility that interest rates may rise enough to kill the project if there’s too much delay in issuing bonds.”Rates could kill this project,” said Merv Lapin, a member of the committee advising the town on the center’s design and construction. He said a rise of 1 to 1.5 percent in bond rates could doom the plans. “The committee looked at an early issue of bonds because of interest rates, but we concluded it was premature,” Lapin said. Concern about interest rates is one reason the town’s plans to issue bonds by the end of this year. A lot has to happen between now and then, though.In addition to picking a design team – a process that will likely stretch into September – the town also has to pick a contractor and draw up a master plan for the site, located between the Lionshead parking structure and Dobson Ice Arena.”We’ve got a long way to go on this,” resident Alan Kosloff said. “The schedule may be unrealistic.”Open in 2007?The design team is the first job on the schedule for the rest of the year. The public got its first peek at six teams competing for the conference center job Wednesday. The formal introductions and handshakes will come later this month.The teams, which were asked to submit their ideas for the conference center, had poster-sized boards featuring photos of their work at Wednesday’s meeting. The formal introductions and interviews with the teams will come during public meetings July 26 and 27.The six design teams were chosen from an initial group of 11 based on experience, financial strength and similar factors, said Chris Squadra of Architectural Resource Consultants, who is also advising the town on the project.In addition to the peek at the work of the candidates for the job, Vail Community Development Department Director Russell Forrest updated the audience on the history and status of the center.Voters in 2002 narrowly approved a new sales tax and lodging tax to build the center. Those taxes raise about $3 million per year. A town committee coordinating the project has recommended using no more than $2.7 million of that yearly income to pay off the debt incurred during construction.The remaining money will be used to pay operating losses on the facility, estimated at between $750,000 and $1 million for the first several years. Those subsidies – which are common for town-owned conference centers – would also be paid with money being collected this year and last, before bonds are issued.If everything works according to the time line, initial work will begin next year, with construction starting in earnest in 2006. The center could open in 2007.’Only a positive’While the schedule from here to the end of the year is ambitious, several people at the meeting expressed enthusiasm even as they were making suggestions.”I can’t wait for 2007,” said Pamela Mather, general manager for the Denver office of Brede Exposition Services – a company that provides equipment and services to conventions.Mather encouraged Squadra to make sure the center’s design is practical and includes elements such as easy Internet access. She also urged designers to worry about the small details, such as making doors wide enough to get tables and other equipment through. “We’ve had places where the doors should have been two inches wider,” she said.Others at the meeting urged town officials to build a high quality facility. Squadra told the audience designers would aim to match the quality of the Lodge at Vail and the Marriott. “Those are identifiable things,” he said.While much of the audience at the meeting was made up of either design team members or others with a possible stake in the center, Vail resident Mark Gordon came for himself.A veteran of the convention business, Gordon now works for Vail Resorts and lives in town. “This is going to make Vail a better place to live and do business,” Gordon said. “It’s only a positive.”Who wants to design the Vail conference center?Six architectural groups are vying for the job of designing the Vail conference center. They are:• Antoine Predock Architects• Fentress Bradburn Architects Ltd.• Horberger & Worstell• Klipp & Morter• LMN Architects & Zehren and • Thompson Ventulett, Stainback & Associates & VAG The design teams will face public interviews July 26 and 27.Price tags$42 million: Estimated cost of the center$3 million: Annual collections from new taxes dedicated to the project$2.7 million: Recommended annual debt payment.$750,000 – $1 million: Estimated operating losses for the first five years.How big?Preliminary plans envision a center of about 100,000 square feet. Of that 25,000 square feet would be dedicated to a main ballroom, with another 20,000 given to meeting rooms. Another 55,000 square feet would be used for main lobby and “back of the building” facilities such as kitchen space and storage.