Election’s about more than 2 projects | VailDaily.com

Election’s about more than 2 projects

Kent Logan

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts.As promised, I finally get to the two high-profile questions of the Crossroads and the Vail conference center. First, let me stress that this election is about much more than just these two issues – it is about the progress we have made and the vision to be forged in the months ahead. As important as the conference center ballot question is, it should not be a decision variable in deciding which specific candidates you support. After all, the reason that this question is back on the ballot is for the voters of Vail to decide, not the next Town Council. More importantly, all candidates should be asked to publicly declare that if elected, they will abide by the decision of the voters on Nov. 8! If the question is defeated, obviously the conference center is over. If the vote is “yes,” then the approval of the next council to authorize the sale of the bonds should be automatic.The second general point that I would make is that we live in a gray world, not a black-and-white one. Most often, a complex decision is not a simple black-or-white proposition, although proponents or opponents of a particular question would like us to believe that it is so. In my opinion, Crossroads is one such gray decision.Practically no one, including myself, believes that the Crossroads building is not in desperate need of redevelopment. In fact, the biggest public benefit would be to tear it down before it falls down. Why, then, did I vote no on this specific plan? Simply put, the size of this particular architectural plan for Crossroads (height, bulk, density) elevated this redevelopment to a select number of projects that “have the potential to change the character of the town.” AND the fact that there has not been sufficient effort devoted to obtaining thoughtful public input relative to that broad question. I do believe that if we had followed the procedure we used for the Front Door project and the Arrabelle Lionshead core site project, we would have had a much better chance of reaching the appropriate compromise to move Crossroads forward. In that regard, at a recent joint meeting of the Town Council and the Planning and Environmental Commission, a recommendation was made to hold a joint conceptual review of major projects with the council, the PEC, the Design Review Board and the public as the initial step before the formal application process is begun. I still believe the appropriate redevelopment of Crossroads is critical to the town of Vail. I hope we can restart this process with greater public participation earlier in the process.Similarly, the conference center ballot question is another gray decision. Some proponents of the issue would like you to believe it is risk-free. It is not, although I do earnestly believe that in its current form the risk to the town’s taxpayers is minimal. AND it is the only initiative that I am aware of that has the potential to pump an additional $20 million-30 million into the business community. Those opposed to the center would have you believe that this is simply the most obvious, worst, doomed-to-failure proposal worthy of no further discussion. As is usually the case, this is much too simple a perspective. Let’s look at the objections.1. The conference center was conceived when Vail’s economy was in the doldrums and now that redevelopment has begun it is no longer needed. To the contrary, I believe it makes more sense now in the context of all the related redevelopment projects and the additional customer traffic that will be generated. The potential for success is enhanced with the added critical mass of hotel rooms and rental condos rather than being the only redevelopment project. Furthermore, economic times will not always be as strong as today and in much the same way that it was envisioned in 2002, it will be an important asset to have at a weaker point in a future economic cycle.2. There is a glut of convention center space; attendance is down all across the country. The oft-cited report “Space Available” used to justify this conclusion by industry guru Heywood Sanders provides the following statistics: total convention center attendance peaked at 5.1 million in 1996, declined to 4.5 million in 1999, rose back to 4.8 million in 2000, fell to 4.6 million in 2001, fell again to 4.2 million in 2002 and further to 4.1 million in 2003. Obviously, this is not a growth industry. However, demand is not dropping 30-50 percent annually, as some would have you believe. Furthermore, it is the convention centers in large cities which are having the biggest problems for all the obvious security-related fears. A number of resort-type conference center sites are doing just fine. More importantly, Heywood Sanders specifically states on page 3 of his report that his finding “does not evaluate the revenue that such spending generates” Are you kidding? That’s the whole reason to do this.Our projections show that within five years, an additional 70,000 room nights would be generated, resulting in $34 million in incremental spending, resulting in over 300 new jobs. Will those totals be realized? That’s a good question, which will really depend on how professionally we manage this property. But oh by the way, should we consider this a failure if it only generates an additional $25 million? I don’t think so.3. The conference center will operate at a loss. Taxpayers won’t be protected. We fully expect this facility to lose $1 million-$1.5 million annually, and perhaps more initially because marketing expenses will be high. (Please note: A number of professional hotel operators believe I am much too conservative with this projection and that the deficits will be much lower).In any case, I want to err on the conservative side. That is why this question is back on the ballot in 2005. We need an additional lodging tax of up to 1.5 percent to offset losses of that magnitude. In addition, we will have a reserve fund of roughly $7 million established by the time the center opens to also help offset any added expenses incurred during the first few years.4. The center will not really help the shoulder seasons. This is essentially correct – and not correct. Of the 22 conferences forecast for the first year of operation, 15 are projected for the summer, one during the ski season and six during the shoulder seasons. First of all, with the exceptions of the Christmas-New Year’s week, President’s Weekend and the spring break weeks, the town is not sold out for the entire ski season. Second, while July is now pretty crowded, August is not sold out. And third, incrementally adding some late April, September and early October business does help the shoulder seasons, even if we write off May, June and November.As any businessman knows when making a long-term investment, the crystal ball is always cloudy. In the end, a decision comes down to judgment based on experience, and past success. In that regard, I am impressed that the successful business entrepreneurs in Vail support this proposal. But make no mistake, this is not simply a question of build it and they will come. Like every other successful venture since the founding of Vail, it will require a coordinated effort from all of us. I will vote yes on the conference center ballot proposal because it’s the only economic initiative with the potential to generate $20 million-30 million in additional revenues for the business community of Vail, and will be a minimal risk to Vail taxpayers.The road ahead, a new vision of a better VailAs I mentioned earlier, the physical redevelopment of Vail is only the first step in building a new vision of a better Vail. Increasingly, we must collectively turn our attention to the “software” aspects that determine the character of our town. That is not to say that there are not several important projects on the horizon. Among them:1. Restructuring and redeveloping the 200-unit Timber Ridge employee housing complex.2. Development of a master plan for the West Vail commercial core to ensure its continuing role in providing essential goods and services for full-time residents.3. Thoughtful development of the Chamonix property, including the West Vail fire station.4. Working closely with Vail Resorts to fully develop the potential of their newly acquired property on the western side of town, which should involve substantial new parking for the entire town.5. Also, I believe the time has come for a comprehensive master plan for the south Frontage Road, given its importance as the gateway to Vail.6. Finally, creation of larger family-type employee housing units (which have been effectively championed by Councilman Greg Moffet and Councilwoman Kim Ruotolo) should be a priority of the next council.On the “software” side, the challenge is even larger, and in many ways more difficult because the conclusions are less obvious, but in the longer run will have far-reaching consequences on our collective Vail experience. Initiation of a series of neighborhood town meetings to gather comprehensive public input as the first step in developing a community master plan should be the first priority of the new council in 2006. As a first step, several focus meetings have already been conducted by the town staff.Finally, as we approach Election Day, I again urge you to step back for a moment and reflect upon all the positive things that have been accomplished in the last two years, and not be overwhelmed by the very few issues that have divided us. We as a group have accomplished a lot! Last, but certainly not least, as he completes his second term as the mayor of Vail, I want to thank Rod Slifer for his mature, steadfast leadership during this eventful period.Kent Logan is a Vail town councilman whose seat is not up for election.Vail, Colorado