Rockin’ the conference center
VAIL ” When there is a big concert in Vail, Dave Chapin sees lots of business at his bar before and after the show.
“They definitely benefit the restaurant and bar business,” said Chapin, an owner of Vendetta’s on Bridge Street.
That’s one reason that he’d like to see a new Lionshead parking structure have the ability to host concerts.
“We constantly hear from promoters that they could bring larger music acts, not even necessarily music ” dance reviews or things like that ” to town, but they don’t really have a venue in the winter like we have in the summer with the Ford Amphitheater,” said Chapin, who also serves on the town’s Commission for Special Events.
The original proposal for the Lionshead garage included the “Vail Center for Visual and Performing Arts,” a hall that could have hosted 1,000 people for a concert. It had professional-quality acoustics and lighting.
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In addition, its seats would have mechanically retracted under the floor to create a flat space for conferences.
But the developer, Texas-based Open Hospitality Partners/Hillwood Capital, bagged that proposal after some people said it wasn’t well-suited for conferences.
“People just didn’t understand it,” said Mark Masinter, a member of the development team.
Masinter is proposing to rebuild the parking garage into condos, timeshares, hotels, the civic center, more public parking, a bus station, stores and restaurants.
The town is now negotiating an agreement with him.
Several people in the community say the concert-hall capability should stay.
“It adds another thing for people to do when they’re in town,” said Phil Long, owner of the Red Lion.
Dobson Ice Arena can host larger concerts, but a hall designed to host concerts could be more effective, Long said.
“There is a little bit of credibility to having a concert-hall type of thing versus having a place where the hockey team is playing then turn it into a concert arena,” he said.
Stephen Connolly, a Vail resident, said he’s in favor of a performing arts center aspect.
“But I’m not going to handcuff a developer to build something that he can’t make money with,” Connolly said.
When there are concerts at Dobson, athletes lose ice time, Connolly said.
“The Dobson Ice Arena is just that: it’s an ice arena, and it’s a Band-Aid,” he said.
The center could function well as both a conference center and a concert hall, Connolly said.
“If you make a conference center that can attract 150 groups, and then on 15 or 20 nights attract a completely different crowd for music events, then that’s great,” he said.
But Connolly said the project shouldn’t be slowed down because of questions over the center. He mentioned the ill-fated Vail Center, proposed a few years ago, which would have included a conference center, an auditorium and a rec center. The project died after the town had trouble fitting all of those aspects into the proposal.
Masinter said his group is re-examining the proposal to come up with a good solution. Still, it will be a conference center first and a performance hall second, he said.
“I think this room has to be a great conference center and a good performing arts center,” he said. “The direction we’re going, I think this becomes less and less competitive with the Vilar (Center in Beaver Creek),” he said.
Pam Stenmark, a proponent of the 2005 conference center proposal that was shot down by Vail voters, said she’d like to see either a good multi-use center or a “true, really top-notch conference center.”
A good-sized conference center of 25,000 square feet would bring business to restaurants, shops and hotels in town, especially during the off-seasons, she said.
Vail has wrestled with conference center proposals for decades. Could this be Vail’s shot to finally get one?
“I think it could be,” Stenmark said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.