Vail wants conference center estimates

Scott N. Miller
Special to the DailyVail officials have asked for building estimates and proposals from conference center operators to help nail down numbers for a possible new conference center in town.

VAIL – The numbers have danced long enough, now it’s time for them to march.That was the intent of the Vail Town Council’s latest step in the long-running saga of a town conference center. Council members voted 6-1 – with Diana Donovan casting the lone no vote – to seek estimates on building and running the center.The town will now send out the latest plans for the center to three general contractors, who will be asked to return a “guaranteed maximum price” to build it. Current estimates from the town and its consultants have pegged construction costs at about $36 million. Equipment and other costs push the total to about $45 million.The council also agreed to ask for proposals to run and manage the center. Consultant Chris Squadra of ARC, a firm helping the town crunch the myriad numbers the conference center project generates, said he’s heard interest in the center from perhaps a dozen companies. He said he expects to see between four and six formal proposals. “We have our estimates. We want to put this out to see if we’re accurate,” said Councilman Kent Logan, who is also a member of the town’s conference center advisory committee.While town officials are trying to nail down hard numbers for the center, Logan acknowledged it’s going to be some time before the council makes a decision.

“There are still several big questions we need to answer,” he said.Perhaps the biggest question is what the operating deficit of the center will be, and whether money from a lodging tax approved in 2002 can cover those costs.The lodging tax brings in about $3.4 million per year. If bonds are sold to build the center, town officials have declared that debt payments must not exceed $2.7 million per year, leaving about $700,000 a year to cover the operating deficits.There’s also about $7.5 million from the tax now in the bank. That reserve fund could be used to pay operating deficits greater than what year-to-year tax collections can cover.Answering that and other questions is going to take a little more time. Logan said the town council could vote by the end of May on whether or not to sell bonds.”This timeline is aggressive, and we ought to hold our feet to the fire on this,” he said. “But if it takes longer to make a decision, it takes longer.”A handful of local lodge owners are anxious to start, though.”This is the greatest thing to happen in my 30 years in Vail,” said Rob LeVine of Antlers in Lionshead. “The people who already operate conference and lodging facilities, and all the biggest facilities, are not just on board, but agreed to tax ourselves to make it happen.”

While the process continues to churn along, one of the center’s most persistent critics continues to express her worries.”The facts don’t support moving forward with this. I think the basic assumptions are false,” Councilwoman Diana Donovan said. “People who don’t know where they stand don’t know what to ask.”Basic things have never been discussed by this board,” she added. Council member Farrow Hitt said some parts of the plan seem “scary,” but, he added, “I’m anxious to see the management plan.”===============Numbers, numbers, numbers69,000: Estimated number of nights spent in hotels a conference center would generate

$30 million: Estimated new spending from a conference center$1.4 million: Estimated new sales and lodging tax collections$700,00 – $1.2 million: Estimated annual operating deficit====================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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