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Center will help Vail’s future

Robin Litt

After 10 years living in Edwards and Eagle-Vail, my family and I just recently moved back to Vail. What a year to be able to cast a vote in the Vail election! Having 10 candidates vying for four seats on the Vail Town Council really demonstrates the passion that exists in this community. And how about that conference center rally? One-hundred people braved the early morning cold to show their support for the Vail conference center. Vail voters care about their town, and I’m proud to be counted among their ranks. What I like most about the upcoming Vail election is our choice on the conference center – a simple decision, in my view. Yes, it’s easy to get bogged down in the data, but let’s back up a little and look at it this way: It’s purely an economic vote. Do you want to support a new influx of revenue to Vail? Do you want to diversify Vail’s economy, so we’re less reliant on the critical four winter months of ski season? Any economist would say that putting your eggs in one basket, hoping to make the lion’s share of tax revenue during one third of the year through skier visits, is truly risky. We need to create a more stable year-round economy in Vail that doesn’t rely so much upon how much snow we get in the ski season. We have a tremendous opportunity today with the conference center. This center will bring Vail’s clientele to our community during times when we have availability – primarily in the fall and spring. And when I say Vail’s clientele, the types of groups that want to come to Vail are groups like Oracle Corp., American Bar Association, and other organizations we are currently turning away for lack of adequate space. Today, as I look around Vail and see the vast redevelopment, I can’t help but get excited. These projects will be great for the town, but they won’t have much meeting space. In fact, the new facilities have very moderate, small meeting rooms to meet the needs of their lodging guests only. What we really need is a facility that the community can share that is bigger than any space we have today. The location that is planned, right between Lionshead and Vail Village, is a perfect complement to and connector for our two villages. If a conference center were to be built in West Vail, as some have speculated, it would not serve the businesses in Vail Village or Lionshead. It would only serve the developer. How is that good for the economy of Vail? Besides, if we continue to entertain hypothetical alternatives, we’ll never break ground on a conference center. The nice thing about the proposed conference center, apart from the fact that it’s viable, is that attendees will stay throughout the town and will shop and eat in between meetings. When I first moved to Vail in 1989, I worked two jobs, which was two fewer than a lot of my friends. Those first few years for me were tough. I had around two months off in the fall and spring and had to scrounge to find work to pay the rent and bills. With the price of gas and heating going up daily and the overall cost of living increasingly exponentially, it’s harder for employees to make ends meet. The conference center would help solve the seasonality of our work force. How great is it to think that in June, you could have groups like the Colorado Association of Realtors (700 delegates) and Saturn’s business conference with 1,300 people stay and spend their money in Vail (we’ve had to turn them away up to this point because we could not accommodate their size)? The spin off revenue from this conference center is staggering – and the estimates that have been presented are very, very conservative; e.g., $34 million annually in new revenue throughout town. That includes about $10 million in new wages and tips to our local work force. That’s a significant sum for the waiters, bartenders, ski shop techs and others who have been struggling through every fall and spring.At a dinner party this week, I heard someone say that this conference center is risky. Of course there’s risk. What business venture doesn’t include some element of risk? When the founders of Vail opened the mountain in 1962, they took a risk. When Ford Park and Ford Amphitheater were created, they were risky ideas. Similarly, small-business owners take risks every day. In my work, I talk to business owners every day who struggle to reinvent themselves to stay competitive. We’ll never eliminate risk. Our challenge is to minimize and plan for it. The losses have been projected and safely budgeted into the center. This project has been studied more than any other development in Vail’s history – and all the studies say build it and they will come! We owe it to ourselves, our community and most of all to our employees to vote yes on No. 1, yes on the conference center on Nov. 8. Robin Litt is a vice president of the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau. Vail, Colorado


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