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Vail gets first look at conference center options

Scott N. Miller

VAIL – More options for the money – that sentiment was the one most often expressed by Vail town officials and residents during a first look at potential designs for a Vail conference center. The presentation by the “design team” – a group of local designers and planners led by Fentress Bradburn Architects of Denver – was the result of brainstorming about how best to use the space between the Lionshead parking structure and Dobson Ice Arena. The overall goal of the project is to provide the town with a conference center of roughly 100,000 square feet, with the space about equally divided by meeting and banquet space and “back of the hall” facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and the like. The town will use a lodging tax approved by voters in 2002 to repay the roughly $42 million in debt necessary to build the structure.Between the vote and the ribbon-cutting lie countless details. Tuesday’s session was the start of not just hammering out the details, but discovering what many of those details are.The design team presented rough sketches laying out the basics of five options:• A conference center with a “half-deck” of parking added to the Lionshead Parking Structure.• The same center with a “full deck” – an entire new level – added to the structure.• A phased plan that over the years could replace the old parking structure and provide a couple of acres of new, developable land.• A “clean sheet” plan that would build a conference center, new parking structure and other commercial property on the site.• A design that would take out a few dozen feet of the parking structure to accommodate a single-floor conference center.While a final design is still to be chosen, early sentiment seemed to favor the third option because it provided the most flexibility for the money.And money will be a critical factor. While all the designs presented Tuesday in some way modified the parking structure, Kent Logan, a Town Council member and member of the town’s conference center advisory committee, said talking about work to the structure is, technically, not on the conference center “to do” list.”The financing is going to be very close on this,” Logan said. “We won’t be able to touch the parking structure.”Since the financing is still a touch-and-go proposition, Logan said he favored the third option. “It preserves all our options without the need for more money,” Logan said.In fact, most of those who spoke favored the third option. For Councilman Greg Moffet, leaving the parking structure alone at first would give the town a chance to have a discussion he said has yet to happen: whether there’s any need for additional parking.While current thinking holds that at least 125 new parking spaces would be needed, Moffet has long questioned that assumption.”If these are conferences where people drive in during times the structure is being used anyway, we’re not using it right,” Moffet said. “If the center is working as advertised, people will come from hotels in buses and on foot.” Moffet also questioned whether the north side of the structure, just off the Frontage Road, is the right place for a transportation hub, especially for skiers. The walk from the Frontage Road to the Lionshead gondola is too far for someone in ski boots, he said.”Option three is close,” Councilwoman Diana Donovan said. Donovan said the town needs to identify and save space for other community uses down the road, something that might be possible if a larger plan includes the eventual demolition and replacement of the parking structure.That option might fill another big item on the town’s wish list, architect Kurt Fentress said. If the town goes with a plan that eventually replaces the parking garage, and if the center is built with on-site underground parking and an eye toward the future, the center could be expanded into what was its parking lot.What should it do?The design team working on the Vail conference center took notes at a recent work session. Among the items the team decided to work on are:• Improve the “sense of arrival” in Lionshead.• Improve the traffic situation on the Frontage Road and the aesthetic character of the street.• Provide 125 new parking spaces and replace those lost to modification of the parking structure entry. Gain additional public parking if feasible, using money provided by Vail Resorts.• Create a public plaza to link the conference center, library and ice arena.• Anticipate future expansion.Staff writer Scott Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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