Conference center project costs double |

Conference center project costs double

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL – The town of Vail needs to craft a ballot question for how to use its $9.3 million in conference-center funds soon, and if voters shoot down an initiative for the second time, the town will have to figure out a way to refund the tax money back to the public.

The money, which was collected through a special sales and lodging tax in order to increase lodging occupancy and overall economic activity in Vail, has been sitting in a fund since it was collected from 2002 through the end of 2005. In November 2005, voters rejected a ballot initiative asking to use the money to build a conference center.

Kent Logan, a Vail resident and former Vail town councilman, told the town of Vail Tuesday night that the time is now to refine the list of projects into a ballot question that the voting community will support.

“This is an important period for Vail,” Logan said, referring to the town’s 50th anniversary next year and the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. “It’s important to recognize that we should move forward at this point in time.”

Logan presented three projects that would utilize the funds, projects the town has gone over before but which still haven’t been refined down to specific costs or design plans. The projects include a remodel and expansion of the Vail Golf Clubhouse, a Vail Village parking garage welcome center that also would include technology upgrades throughout town for better customer service and a Ford Park recreation field expansion and upgrade.

A recent Vail Valley Foundation presentation about a project that would renovate the lower bench of Ford Park, which the Foundation is calling the Ford Park Gardens, also should be considered for use of conference center funds, Logan said.

And while the conference center funds total $9.3 million, the projects as they’re proposed now total about $16 million. Throw in the Ford Park Gardens proposal, and the projects would cost upward of $20 million.

Are proposed projects enough?

The town plans to host several public meetings in the coming weeks and months in an effort to gather enough feedback from the public about the projects. The town heard some feedback Tuesday night from some of the 20 or so people in the crowd who came to listen to the presentation.

Rob Levine, the general manager of The Antlers at Vail, said the proposed projects are fine, but he thinks they’re not going to solve the original goal for the money, which was to bring in business during the offseasons and round out the local economy.

He said the conference center was the most promising answer in terms of bringing new markets to Vail during offseasons but that it just wasn’t presented in a compelling way to the public. Without the possibility of a conference center now, Levine said there has to be more discussion about how to make the economy year-round rather than looking to projects that simply improve what the town already does.

Logan said there is no silver-bullet idea that would solve all of the town’s offseason economic problems, certainly not for $9 million or even $15 million, he said.

He also said there’s room to refine the projects and reduce the costs.

“I think these numbers are wish numbers that reflect the boom of 2007 and not the reality of 2011,” Logan said, pointing out that the recreation field expansion alone, at an estimated $4.5 million, is a “mind-boggling” estimate.

The town hopes to hear from the public in the coming weeks about the projects proposed, or any other projects the public has in mind, before working on a ballot question the town would likely send to the voters in an Aug. 23 special election.

If voters turn the question down, Town Manager Stan Zemler said the town would then be obligated to come up with a refunding mechanism. It would obviously not be able to track down every person who paid the taxes from 2002 through 2005, but the town could suspend a portion of existing sales tax on lodging for a specific time period, for example.

The town will host another public meeting about the proposed projects, likely during the second council meeting in May.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at

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