Vail Voters say hello to conference center
Vail voters Tuesday welcomed a $46 million conference center to town, by a 23-vote margin. Of 1,585 ballots counted on Vail Referendum 2D, 804 were cast in favor of a tax-increase package that promises to raise $96 million to repay the cost of constructing the 50,000-square-foot facility on a six-acre lot in west Lionshead.Total voter turn-out in Vail mirrored county-wide trends at about 56 percent – high for Vail election standards, which in the last couple of years have hovered around 30 percent.Supporters of the conference center proposal cheered its passage Tuesday night at the Altitude Club in the Evergreen Lodge.”(2 D) passed because it was a good, clean, simple business deal,” said Stan Cope of the Lodge Tower and Vail Mountain Lodge, who along with other lodging representative began lobbying for a conference center this summer.Sparked by Vail Resorts’ offer to donate a piece of land for a conference center, Cope and other lodge owners and managers presented the town with a proposal that combined a $9 million land contribution from the ski company with a debt repayment plan that burdens visitors with most of the cost of constructing the meeting facility.”The voters said they really do want an economic engine other than skiing, because skiing can’t carry the community 100 percent of the way,” said Frank Johnson, director of the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau, which according to Johnson has turned away 6 to 10 large conference per year, because Vail does not have a meeting facility for groups larger than 1,000.Conference center advocates have said the facility is expected to bring in $34 million in gross revenues to businesses and generate as much as $10 million in additional wages and benefits to employees who already live here.According to a national survey of meeting planners, conducted by Convention, Sports & Leisure International, a Minneapolis-based consultant firm, a 50,000-square-foot meeting facility would result in 46,000 more hotel room bookings during the initial year and as many as 70,000 by year five.Voters at the polls said they supported the conference center as a way to shift Vail’s winter-dominated economy into a year-round gear.”I think it will have a positive effect on Vail’s economy and Vail’s overall health by bringing people to town in the off-season,” said a 35-year-old real-estate agent, who lives in the Red Sandstone neighborhood and has been in Vail for the past two years.”I think it is time for Vail to tap into business travel, we can’t just be a high-class ski resort anymore,” she said.A 37-year-old contractor, who voted in East Vail early Tuesday afternoon, said he didn’t like the idea of a conference center in town, but sees its benefits outweighing its risks.”I think it will pay for itself. Vail is a tempting enough destiny. I think people will come and they will come in the times when we need business the most, in the off-season,” he said.Critics of the conference center said during the campaign season that the debt load was too high and promises too vague.But for one opponent at the polls it was the location that was the deciding factor.”Ninety-nine percent of my problem with the conference center is with the location, said a 48-year-old contractor who has lived in Vail since 1972.”It’s too far on one side of the town to benefit everyone,” he said.Plans for a conference center has been on Vail’s communal agenda since 1987, when voters resoundingly rejected the $16 million “Congress Hall” project. A more recent ballot question was scratched when the cost boomed and programs ballooned out of control.The $76 to $100 million “Vail Center” project, which included a conference facility along with a learning center, a climbing wall, a second ice rink and other community amenities on the Charter Bus lot, died at the hands of Vail’s former council as a ballot deadline neared in 2000.Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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