Vail conference center funds history: How we got here
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Vail’s election ballot contains a question that asks voters to use a $9.4 million town fund on three specific projects. Here’s some background of where that money came from and why it’s on this election ballot.
The money has been sitting in the so-called conference center fund since 2005, when voters rejected its use for building a conference center in town.
The money cannot be spent without voter approval, and the town of Vail received legal advice last year that says it must seek that voter approval now rather than let the money sit any longer.
The town’s cites attorney-client privilege for not revealing why exactly the legal advice is to hurry up and get an approval. And with that, the time has come for voters to decide.
If voters do not approve the use of the funds for the three projects – renovation of the Vail Golf Clubhouse, expansion and renovation of the Ford Park recreation fields, and upgrades at the Ford Amphitheater – the money must be returned to the taxpayers.
Returning the money, however, doesn’t mean taxpayers will get a refund of any kind. The method for returning the money would be to lower the lodging tax over the period of 20 years to essentially “repay” the money to the taxpayers.
Here’s a history of what’s happened:
Vail raised through a voter-approved lodging and sales tax increase beginning in 2002. The tax was raised through a half-cent sales tax and 1.5 percent lodging tax for the purpose of increasing occupancy and overall economic activity in Vail, ideally through the use of a new conference center. Voters rejected the idea to build a conference center in November 2005, which also put a stop to the tax increases.
The Vail Town Council decided it would create a conference center fund advisory group or task force at its council retreat, but town staff was still figuring out the details of when and how it would happen.
In the meantime, Rayla Kundolf, a Commission on Special Events board member and director of the Masters Gallery in Vail, and Beth Slifer, longtime Vail resident and owner of Slifer Designs, in Edwards, were floating around ideas for two existing buildings – the old Colorado Mountain College campus at the Vail Cascade Resort in West Vail, and the Dobson Ice Arena near Lionshead.
A study was done several years ago that shows a second story could be added to Dobson Arena, a building Slifer said has “built-in economic advantages.”
Mayor Dick Cleveland said the option can’t be “all things to all people,” something previous councils tried to accomplish but couldn’t. He said the use for the funds has to be something that can evolve and adapt over time. He said “health and wellness is all well and good,” but it may no longer be the “in” thing in five years.
“We can’t wait for ideas to fall out of the sky,” Cleveland said. “We need to decide in 2010 what we’re going to do with this money.”
Council members now want to put together a group of locals who can help make a lot of discussions turn into reality.
The council wanted to put a group together that could help decide which options for the money would help the town reach its goals of putting more heads in beds and raising more sales tax revenue.
The nine-member group would include two Vail Town Council members, two Vail Economic Advisory Council members and five at-large members. Council members Kerry Donovan and Susie Tjossem volunteered for the two council positions.
Vail resident and former Vail Councilman Kent Logan, Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald, and Councilwomen Susie Tjossem and Kerry Donovan met with various locals and resort development groups throughout the last three months to discuss ideas for putting the funds to good use.
“If there’s no good use at all, then we shouldn’t do it, but if we do think we have some pretty good uses, we should get it in place now so it’s completed by (the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships),” Logan said.
Logan said Vail doesn’t seem to be missing any one thing, but rather the town needs to update several smaller facilities.
“Let’s complete the renaissance,” Logan said. “We ought to dress up the assets we have and bring them up to world-class standards. Nine million isn’t peanuts, but it’s not a whole lot of money, either. This could be the town’s version of an economic stimulus to get the town focused on something positive while looking ahead to the 50th anniversary and the 2015 championships.”
The projects being considered included a remodel of the Vail Golf Clubhouse, a remodel and expansion of the Vail Village Welcome Center, upgraded technology throughout town to enhance guest experiences, a Dobson Ice Arena expansion and renovation and a Ford Park expansion.
The welcome center and Dobson Ice Arena were later dropped out of the running, and the technology upgrades are still being considered, but not for conference funds use.
July 2011 survey
The town hired Lori Weigel, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies, a national firm that conducts public opinion research, to poll local registered voters about the proposed projects that would use the funds. Weigel surveyed 150 Vail voters over the phone from June 26 through July 10 – 50 respondents short of her intended goal, but enough to get a good sample, she said.
Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed would support the ballot question that would ask for permission to fund those three projects, she said. And evidence shows that that number typically wouldn’t drop below 50 percent support between now and November because support is higher than 60 percent.
The town of Vail will ask voters this November to approve the use of $9.4 million to upgrade three existing town assets.
The Vail Town Council unanimously approved ballot question language that will ask voters to approve three projects – renovation of the Vail Golf Clubhouse, expansion and renovation of the Ford Park recreation fields, and upgrades at the Ford Amphitheater, including the construction of terraced lawn seats.