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New split on conference center?

Kaye Ferry

There seems to be a little dissension in the lodging community. Where there was a mostly unified force when the first question of the conference center went to the voters in 2002, now there are splinters.The large lodges, clearly those that stand to gain the most if a conference center is built, are still the cheerleaders. It’s the small lodges that have moved to the skeptical category.Not only are they aware that reservations are unlikely to flow from conference bookings into their properties, they also view the new tax increase as something that will work against them.Word on the street is that the small lodge operators have been grumbling about the competitive disadvantage the new tax will put them in. Right now, Vail collects 11.8 percent in lodging taxes. With the best guess estimate of an additional 1.5 percent needed to fund the conference center, that would bring the total to 13.3 percent.In the grand scheme of things, there are those that shrug and say “so what?” On the other hand, there is the other side of the coin that says “wait a second!” And that group likes to point out that at 13.3 percent, Vail will be at the highest rate of any ski town in the state. Here’s how the rest line up: Copper Mountain, 12.9 percent; Snowmass, 12.54 percent; Crested Butte, 12.5 percent; Telluride, 12.4 percent; Avon, 12.4 percent; Beaver Creek, 10.99 percent; Breckenridge, 10.55 percent; Keystone, 9.65 percent; Aspen, 9.6 percent; Durango, 9.4 percent; Steamboat Springs, 9.4 percent; Winter Park, 8.9 percent. So there’s a movement out there to reword the ballot question. Up until now, the discussion has centered around an increase in lodging tax only. A contingent from the lodging community came to a conference center committee meeting last week to present what some would view as a solution: Split the new tax between an increase in the lodging tax and an increase in sales tax.Moreover, they asked the conference center committee to fund a study to see how much “elasticity” there is in the market place. In other words, how much of an increase in taxes, if any, will the guest be willing to absorb before they choose another destination? The group went so far as to suggest that they are unsure if the lodging community in Vail will support the November question if the entire tax burden falls on them. Apparently the lodges question whether it is appropriate for them to shoulder the entire burden of yet another increase. And they base that sentiment on their estimate that while the lodges will derive 28 percent of the benefit, they are being asked to provide 100 percent of the increased funding.Of course, they’re not alone. Because there’s a feeling among the restaurants that they won’t receive much business, either, and they could have a point. Statistics show that there are two main revenue sources for conference facilities, food and beverage, and parking.If we believe the hype, parking will be free during the main booking times, shoulder and summer and evenings. So logic tells us that the only remaining source or revenue is food and beverage, which means to me that will have to be an internal focus for revenues. So just what does that leave the restaurants?I’ve also heard those same kinds of rumblings from the retail community. They believe that the convention attendee is generally part of the budget crowd. Additionally, they really don’t have enough free time to do much damage on their credit cards.So that leaves me scratching my head asking exactly who will benefit? Surely there will be money spent in the community. Yet there remains the question of whether the risk balances the potential rewards. But it is curious that most groups think the other guy will be the beneficiary of whatever business is generated.If the lodging community is waffling, what does that say?But back to the study. The request had to be approved by the Vail Town Council. On July 19 a proposal was made for a $10,000 expenditure on this “elasticity” issue. And it was turned down. For several reasons.One councilman felt it was not appropriate use of the tax dollars collected. The conclusion was if the lodges had questions remaining that they need to address in order to gather support from their own constituents, they need to pay for those studies themselves.I think the overwhelming thought, however, was – enough studies already! Let’s get on with it, and those questions will be answered in November.Between now and then, there’s a lot of work to do. Every voter in this community needs to spend time becoming informed on this issue. Both sides will present their version of the truth. It becomes the job of the voter to ferret out reality and determine how the proposed value of this facility weighs against the disadvantages.I will try to keep the process honest, as already the town is suggesting that they need not be held to the same development requirements as demanded from the private sector – something that in my mind cannot be tolerated. Areas like housing and parking and fire protection. We are all tortured by these issues when we appear at Community Development to start through the process. The town should be no exception.Right now, the Planning and Environmental Commission is taking the first look and has already asked for more information. As it unfolds, I’ll keep you posted. The Town Council gets the next stab at it. And then, of course, comes the Design Review Board. There’s a lot happening between now and November, so listen up and get prepared to make an informed choice. By the way, did you catch Don Rogers’ attempt to justify Tipsline? Pretty lame way to dignify something that wouldn’t even make the cut at the Inquirer.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, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado


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