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Center critics far from appeased

A 6-1 vote May 20 by the Vail Town Council to put a voter-approved conference center on the so-called Hub Site has done little to appease critics who are calling for a re-vote on the tax increases to pay for the project.The lone dissenting vote, cast by council member Diana Donovan, seems to sum up the sentiments of those who feel, as Donovan puts it, “hoodwinked” by the center’s change of location.Slated for Vail Resorts’ $9 million Holy Cross site west of Lionshead prior to the election though a particular site was never specified in the ballot language the $46 million, 50,000-square-foot center has been held up since then by squabbling over parking.The revelation in recent months that the ski company would only donate the land if it could control 300 of the 350 spaces for employee parking had several council members and Vail residents calling for the center to built on the town-owned Hub Site east of the Lionshead Parking Structure. They got their wish Tuesday, but the breakthrough hasn’t entirely quelled the controversy.Apparently what broke the logjam was VR’s offer to contribute $4.3 million for another level on the Lionshead Parking Structure, which would add 400 spaces that could be used for both skier traffic and conference center attendees. Town officials say that still leaves a $1.8 million shortfall in what it would take to build another “plate” on the structure, and VR officials suggested using parking-fee revenues to cover the deficit.Donovan argued at Tuesday’s council meeting that voters would not have approved the 1.5 percent lodging tax and a half-cent sales tax hike to finance the center on the Holy Cross Site.A serious effort is now under way to test that theory. Vail businessman Rick Scalpello, a critic of the project prior to the election, has been raising legal funds to explore the viability of placing a question on this November’s ballot terminating the collection of the new taxes.”We’re exploring the feasibility of doing that,” Scalpello confirms, but he would not elaborate on his reasons for doing so.Prior to the election, Scalpello questioned the financial feasibility of the conference center and expressed concerns that it would unduly burden the town with debt.The facility enjoys widespread support among members of the lodging community, several of whom spoke at the council meeting.Scalpello says nothing has happened that would change his mind about the facility’s potential negative impact on town finances.”I still feel that way, and if the lodging community thinks this is such a good idea, they should fund it, not the town,” Scalpello says.Many questions remain about the feasibility of Scalpello’s challenge at the polls, including whether it would be binding, what the deadlines are for filing a petition and what would happen to the taxes that have been collected since Jan. 1.The conference center vote in Vail was a close one, passing by a slim 44-vote margin.”I always thought (the Hub Site) was the best location, but I’m disappointed that the voters didn’t make that call,” says Kaye Ferry, a local business owner and Vail Chamber and Business Association board member. “I think it’s a long way from done.”At Tuesday’s council meeting, longtime center supporter and council member Greg Moffet said his only regrets in relocating the center are the loss of the Hub Site, currently used to park charter buses, as a potential location for recreation facilities, and the lack of expansion space on the smaller lot.The second part of the vote to put the facility on the Hub Site was a motion to meet with Vail Resorts’ executives in an executive session to hammer out the details of the ski company’s contribution to expanded parking.


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