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Conference center clouds loom

Kaye Ferry

The Vail conference center issues that are of real interest to the person on the street are starting to rise to the top of list. Prior to this, the committee has been dealing with a lot of the drudge work, the kind of stuff that puts the average guy to sleep.For sure, the decisions that they have wrestled with are extremely important, for without the right decisions now, there can be absolutely no hope of a successful project in the future.So they reviewed a whole array of applications for an owner’s rep and made a decision to go with Architectural Resource Consultants. This firm comes with a history of working on several Vail projects and has already taken a leadership role on this one.The finance issues were addressed next. This was pretty heavy duty, considering the fluctuating economy. But the committee set out some clear criteria and drove a hard bargain, which allowed them to ultimately get what they wanted. Piper Jaffray and Kirkpatrick Pettis was the choice for investment banker.A fairly long process with a surprisingly easy conclusion involved choosing the architect. Again, lots of presentations to the group and the public, but what could go down as a first was the unanimous choice of Fentress Bradburn. Not only do they bring creativity to the table, as they designed DIA, but they are also responsible for a comparable, albeit larger, convention center in Denver.It’s been an arduous process that has been going on for over a year. And I suspect that now the fun begins. Can you see my tongue pushing into the side of my cheek? Call me cynical if you like, but I’m going to guess – complete speculation, mind you – that now with the real grunt work completed, the critics will start crawling out of the woodwork to throw in their 2 cents worth.All of the meetings have been open to the public for over a year, yet very rarely has the public participated. In fact, I can only think of a couple of times when anyone showed up, other than the two-three usual suspects.But there are several issues that need monitoring as we move forward. The conference center ballot question clearly defined the use of the space to be built. Conference facilities. Period. There are a few out there that seem to think things like climbing walls, performing arts arenas and dance studios are still an option. The inclusion of the entire community wish list is what caused all previous attempts to build this center to fail. And that’s the reason the ballot question was so tightly worded. We must take care to avoid any of these considerations as we move through the next phase, lest we run the risk of violating the public trust and perhaps even legally jeopardizing the project’s completion.At the meeting on the 15th, the word governance came up. It covers things like the conference center’s goals, the decision-making process and the governing board itself. This could fill several columns and there’ll be ample time to come back to it after a few philosophies are thrown about.Two more issues high on the radar screen deal with daily functions – operations and marketing/sales. These have heated up at the last couple of meetings as the debate has ensued as to whether or not those roles will be filled by local organizations or if the process needs to involve a national search. As I have said before, these decisions could ultimately make or break the whole facility, to say nothing of the fact that how the running of the conference center is structured will have a direct effect on the rest of the meeting spaces in town.It is imperative that any organization awarded the contracts come to the table unencumbered. Additionally, experience is key.As many local groups already provide similar functions, two questions need to be answered. Do any local organizations have the type of background necessary to expertly manage this new facility? Can any of them do it in a completely objective way? Be prepared for lots of discussion and I imagine a few battles. But otherwise, how would we know we were in Vail?THE BUBBLE: The ice bubble is gone. And its downfall – no pun intended -finally came to economics. I was one of the few that actually thought it quite beautiful. Certainly its low slung, graceful sloping sides did not deserve the criticism heaped upon it. And the fear of the neighborhood about riotous noise and streaming traffic was nothing more that the hysterical positioning that usually accompanies any change in the town of Vail.But neither the Vail Recreation District nor the Vail Town Council was willing or financially able to carry the losses incurred through the lack of use of the white giant. In the end, D-Day was scheduled and the word was “Show us the money.” When the final, final and absolutely final moment arrived, there were a lot of proposed contracts, a couple of signed contracts and only one actual deposit. One. Money was what everyone was looking for and as we all know, cash on the line is the only true commitment. So it came down to the old put up or shut up. Perhaps it was too much to ask, money up front. But without it, there was no guarantee that the bleeding wouldn’t continue. Without hard cash on the table, the decision was clear, if still not easy.It was a nice experiment that worked for a while. The suggestion now is that we return to the outdoor rink previously located at the Vail golf course. It was simple, cheap in comparison and always open for public skating. And the only easy solution for this winter.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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