Conference center a curse or cure?
Proponents of Vail Referendum 2D, which asks voters to approve a package of sales and lodging tax increases to pay for a $46 million meeting facility for up to 2,000 people, say the investment is fool-proof.
Opponents on the other hand warn that the 50,000-square-foot facility will further burden cash-starved Vail with debt payments. Furthermore the lack of an integrated hotel and its location at the western edge of Lionshead, more than 100 miles from the closest major airport, will make it a tough sell to convention clients, critics say.
“I think it is a huge mistake,” says Vail Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan, who has opposed the convention center proposal since it was first introduced by a group of lodge managers this summer.
Donovan blames the absence of any organized or individual opposition to the center on fears of “retribution” from its advocates. She says 2D is “a dog” and could bury Vail while mostly benefitting Vail Resorts, which owns the nearby Marriott’s Vail Mountain Resort hotel.
The Marriott is currently undergoing a $20 million renovation and will be joined by at least two more hotels as part of Vail Resorts’ $400 million renovation of Lionshead. The fact the company is donating a 6-acre piece of land for a conference center just across the street from the Marriott isn’t enough, says Donovan, because the town will carry the ultimate risk of repaying the nearly $100 million debt.
“Yes, they are donating the land,” says Donovan. “And yes, they will market their hotel properties with this center as an asset – but they don’t want any of the risk. If this doesn’t work the town is stuck with it.”
Brian McCartney, vice president of Vail Mountain, disagrees. He says the proximity to the Marriott) “is what it is,” but that the proposal “is really something the whole lodging community is behind,” not just Vail Resorts.
Stan Cope, one of the advocates of the center proposal and manager of The Lodge Tower and the Vail Mountain Lodge, says accusations of “retribution” in the form of fewer reservations to lodge owners who come out in opposition of the conference center, amounts to “small-town warfare.”
“I won’t engage in it,” he says, adding that the majority of the 60 larger hotel owners and managers in Vail, are behind the proposal.
Even hotel properties with meeting rooms – the biggest at the Marriott is 8,300 square feet – are in support of the center.
“Like me, who has no meeting rooms at all, they gladly take the overflow when their own meeting room is taken or empty,” he says.
Bob Lazier, owner of the 45-room Tivoli in Vail Village, says there is no argument good enough against the center.
“I’m in tremendous favor of this conference center,” says the longtime Vail businessman, who plans to rebuild and expand his hotel to 65-rooms in the next two years and add a small meeting room for 75 to 100 people.
“It’ll stabilize some of the off-season business. I think it will have a lot of impact on the summer business,” Lazier says. “We at the Tivoli find that we are not being able to get week-long stays; everyone is doing extended weekends nowadays. I think a conference center will help smaller properties like ours to get that early-of-the-week business.”
Even if his hotel is more than 30 walking minutes from the conference center, Lazier says, he will benefit.
“Even if the Marriott fills first, it will start coming in my direction. Saying this center only benefits Vail Resorts is not a good reason not do it,” he says. “The business won’t stop at Lionshead. I might get a customer because I’m far from all the conference business where it is nice and quiet.”
“A conference center will benefit this town as a whole,” he adds. “I’m absolutely certain of that.”
The borrowing plan for the center banks on an annual additional tax revenue of $3.8 million to repay $96 million over 20 to 30 years.
If the economy rebounds and tax revenues go up, the $96 million debt could be retired earlier than the estimated 20 to 25 years, he says.
– A package of tax increases to repay bonds in the total debt amount of $96 million to build a $46 million conference center at the western edge of Lionshead on a 6-acre parcel donated by Vail Resorts. The package proposes a 1.5 percent increase to the 1.4 percent lodging tax and a .5 percent increase to the town’s 4 percent sales tax for an estimated $3.8 million in additional tax revenues, collected annually and used to retire the $96 million debt. The tax increases would end once the debt is payed off in 20 to 25 years. Groceries will be excluded from the proposed increase.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com.