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Keystone: Conferences give businesses a boost

Scott N. Miller
Brad Odekirk/Special to the DailyKeystone Conference Center.
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KEYSTONE – When Matt Walsh and his wife, Andrea, were looking for a spot to open a day spa, they picked Keystone. It has a conference center.The Walshes, owners of the Serenity Spa and Salon, opened in a space near the conference center last year. “It’s been working out real well so far,” Matt Walsh said. “There were no full-service spas in the neighborhood.”Down the road, the Snake River Saloon has been doing business in Keystone for nearly 30 years. The bar and restaurant has a solid core of local customers, and still shuts down for a few weeks in the spring for some deep cleaning and the traditional deep breath following ski season. But owner Jim Shields said the big groups the center brings are welcome in his place, and a welcome addition to the bottom line.”I’d be out of a job right now without it,” said Dan Draper, who works at the Snake River.Shields, who has done business in Keystone for about 30 years, has seen the resort both with and without a center. He said he likes business better with it.So does Kevin Masten, a Keystone resident who runs an independent advertising and graphic design company. “It’s great business to have,” Masten said. “They come in Monday through Wednesday in the off months. It really balances business out.”The people who come to conferences, largely members of professional groups, are also good future customers, Masten said.”People will come in the summers, and bring their families back in the winter,” he said.Because people who attend conferences at Keystone are often there during the work week, and frequently take vans or buses from either the Denver or Eagle airports, the group business is a way to pad businesses’ bottom line without putting more strain on Interstate 70, Masten said. “This is the type of business resort communities should be looking for,” Masten said.

Not all rosyBut while these and other business owners say Keystone’s conference center is a good thing, it’s not an unqualified hit.That Vail Resorts, which runs Keystone, also owns and operates the center isn’t quite seen as a problem. Most of the time, the big company and the independent businesses around Keystone get along. But sometimes there are conflicts. The resort, Shields said, has to be willing to share dollars with the small businesses near the center. “Sometimes groups come in and they’re free to go where they want. That’s good for us,” Shields said. “But other times they’re booked into the center. That doesn’t help.”As for the Walshes, there’s a small spa at the Keystone Lodge, also run by Vail Resorts, with which they compete. While the Walshes’ spa is quite a bit larger, they still lose business to the company-owned operation.”We’ve met with the concierges, and given them brochures, but they don’t give them out,” Walsh said. “We do get convention business, but that’s because we actively pursue it.”Shields, who’s been at Keystone since the 1970s, said the first pitch for the conference center – which all businesses help pay for through a special sales tax – came with a promise that whatever firm owned the resort would spread the group business.”That’s a key issue,” Shields said. “When it does happen, it’s great.”

Local useOverall, though, the small business owners say working with Vail Resorts is fine. Walsh said he likes working with Vail Resorts, despite the occasional hitches.”Vail Resorts has been a really good neighbor,” Masten added. That neighborliness includes providing space for local fund-raising events. Other local groups have found ways to use the center, too, Masten said.”Locals will find a way to use it if you have one in Vail,” he said.The benefits of the center extend beyond just Keystone, said Constance Jones, director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce.”It really is a valuable asset for Summit County,” she said. “The restaurant and service business really benefits. It’s critical for a lot of those businesses.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Keystone Conference CenterBiggest ballroom: 19,800 square feetTotal space: 44,180 square feetBiggest possible banquet: 3,610 peopleMaximum separate rooms: 25Room nights (2002-03): 81,800=================Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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