Developer wants to build conference center in Vail
VAIL – A developer’s idea for the Lionshead parking structure has Vail buzzing about a conference center again, six months after voters soundly defeated a publicly funded center.Texas developer Mark Masinter has approached the town with a proposal for the redevelopment of the parking structure . The proposal includes two hotels, a conference center, stores – and more public parking than the current 1,100 spaces – on the site of the aging Lionshead structure, said Russ Forrest, head of the town’s Community Development Department. The town owns the land that the garage sits on.Masinter, reached by phone Friday, confirmed that the proposal includes the hotels, the conference center, stores and parking. He said he is working in partnership with a development group, whose name he did not disclose. Masinter declined to further discuss the proposal but said he would provide more information next week.Based on Masinter’s informal proposal, the town plans to solicit proposals from developers to redevelop the structure. The town will start taking proposals Monday, and seeks to choose a developer by August.”This was moving forward quickly,” Forrest said. “We put up the yellow flag that this needs to be a public and transparent process.”The town says it wants more parking spaces, hotels and a conference or event center with at least 25,000 square feet of meeting or event space. Forrest said Masinter’s conference center proposal meets the town’s goals for the center.Other goals include creation of stores on the south side of the structure on East Lionshead Circle as well as a new information center.”In terms of bulk and mass, it would be similar to other things in Lionshead,” Forrest said.Forrest said the town would likely arrange a long-term lease with the developer. The town wants the developer to pay for the entire development, but there’s an opportunity for the town to help with the cost, Forrest said.Improvements neededThe structure, built in 1981, will need a major renovation within 25 years, Forrest said. But even in the next five years, several million dollars in improvements are needed, he said.The area for potential redevelopment is 4.3 acres and includes the parking structure and the charter bus lot – the proposed site for the defeated, publicly funded center.Vail Resorts has a deed restriction on the property that limits its use to public parking and conference centers. Vail Resorts has said it would modify the restriction to accommodate private development, the town said.In November, Vail voters defeated a ballot question that sought a tax increase to build a conference center with 40,000 square feet of meeting space between the Lionshead structure and Dobson Arena. The “no” vote killed the project.Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers hotel and condominiums and a leading proponent of the conference center last fall, said a privately built conference center with hotels attached is better than nothing, but not ideal.”I think a conference center as was proposed before would have done more to help the existing lodging community than one that’s associated with a large hotel,” he said.A conference center with a hotel attached won’t do a lot to help the seasonal nature of the hotel business in Vail, LeVine said. Local stores would benefit, but conference attendees may eat in the hotels, not in local restaurants, he said.Giving it a lookCouncilman Farrow Hitt said the property is one of the last large, town-owned properties that have a potential for redevelopment.”We need to take a look at it,” he said. “We have a guy who has a proposal here. … By no means am I saying, ‘Yes, let’s do this.'”Hitt did not favor the conference center proposal in last November’s election, but he said the town does need a gathering place.”I think the town needs some sort of center, whether it’s a conference center, convention center or performing arts center,” he said.Councilman Greg Moffet said it would be difficult to redevelop the parking structure simply with tax dollars.”Given the cost, we’re going to have to do something more than just issue debt to get it done,” he said.Opponents of the publicly built conference center were worried about the complex financial arrangements and potential risk to the town’s coffers, Moffet said.”(A privately built center) eliminates that issue,” he said.Moffet said he doesn’t know if the current process will lead to a conference center in Vail. But there will likely be opposition to whatever is proposed, he said.”Have we done anything in this community without a significant amount of opposition?” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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