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The course for conference center

Rod Slifer

These are exciting times for Vail. The town’s billion dollar renewal is under way, and one of the most anticipated components is Vail’s new conference center, to be built just east of the Lionshead parking structure. The facility, which is being funded through a 1.5 percent lodging tax and a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2002, is moving forward in the planning and design phases. Some say the process is moving too fast, while others tell us we’re moving too slowly. For me, as mayor of the town of Vail, it’s not about “too fast” or “too slow.” It’s about getting it right. Rest assured, we’re taking the time to do just that. Allow me to update you on where we are today in the conference center process, and where we are headed in the next couple of months. Then, plan to join us for an update on March 9.Over the past year-and-a-half, the Vail Town Council has been evaluating the conference center project with the benefit of the expertise provided by local lodge managers, as well as nationally renowned advisers. Expertise has included:– An eight-member Conference Center Oversight Committee, in place since June 2003. The committee is comprised of a diverse cross-section of the community, including proponents and self-proclaimed conference center skeptics. The Town Council continues to benefit from the well-researched recommendations of that group. — HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting, internationally recognized authority in convention center feasibility. HVS prepared a market analysis and a business plan early in 2004 for Vail’s facility. An update to the business plan was completed in December 2004. Both documents indicate a very positive financial outlook for a conference center here, as Vail is an attractive destination to event planners and conference attendees. — Architectural Resource Consultants Inc., experts in construction cost estimating and scheduling. The Vail Town Council hired ARC as its owner representative in April 2004. The firm’s sole responsibility is to protect the town’s best interests throughout the design and construction process. Their experience in the selection of project team members and keeping developments on-budget continues to be an invaluable resource to the Council.– Fentress Bradburn Architects Inc., selected in July 2004 to design the conference center. The firm has a demonstrated ability to create extremely successful landmark buildings, and is a nationally recognized leader in the field of public architecture.– Piper Jaffray, one of the country’s most respected investment banking firms. Piper Jaffray has provided a financial overview for the conference center, which includes anticipated operating deficits, debt service payments and a healthy capital reserve fund. Updates based on current interest rates are received monthly. With the help of the above, the Vail Town Council has made several key decisions in the conference center process. A preferred site plan was selected by the council in October 2004, a concept that allows for the potential of a phased redevelopment of the Lionshead parking structure in the future. In October and November of 2004, the council, members of the Planning and Environmental Commission, Design Review Board and the public were presented with three potential design style alternatives for the architectural character of the facility. Over 340 comments were received from the community.In December 2004, the Vail Town Council voted to direct the architects to pursue a design style inspired by Vail’s natural environment. It is a direction that intrigued me, this council and others with its innovative interpretation of Vail’s surrounding topography, and its ability to be an icon for Vail. The materials envisioned by the design team include heavy stone and timbers, as seen elsewhere in architecture throughout the town. Our selected design team, Fentress Bradburn, has had tremendous success in other resort communities in creating buildings that capture the unique spirit of their surroundings. Examples include the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and the Palm Springs, Calif., Convention Center. Presentations to local architects on the potential design of the conference center garnered a majority of endorsements for the “natural” style from our architectural community. While there was a lot of excitement, both positive and negative, regarding the choice of design style, I believe the time invested in the last month to refine the concept has been invaluable. I would like to invite the community to see the current iteration and talk to members of the architectural team at an open house at 5 p.m. March 9 in the Community Room of the Vail Library. Over the next few weeks, the Conference Center Oversight Committee will focus on preparing a recommendation on operational and marketing aspects of the conference center, as well as the structure for the facility’s governance. Updates on those discussions will occur during our March and April town council meetings. Immediate next steps in the conference center process include the selection of a general contractor, and the issuance of bonds. Between now and the time those decisions are made, the Vail Town Council will have the chance to review cost estimates prepared by the general contractor candidates. In addition, the update to the HVS business plan received in December 2004 has served to assure us that favorable conditions for the feasibility of a conference center continue to exist. The document is available for public review at http://www.vailgov.com. In the meantime, the Vail Town Council will continue to spend the time it needs to further evaluate the project’s financial viability before any decisions are made to issue bonds.As we move forward in this endeavor, I sincerely hope that the high level of interest in the conference center project continues. Your comments are always welcome. Contact me or other Vail Town Council members at 479-1860 or towncouncil@vailgov.com. And again, please join us at the open house on March 9. With your feedback and support, we will build a successful facility of which the entire community will be proud.Rod Slifer is the mayor of Vail. Vail, Colorado


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