What to do with conference center money?
When Vail voters decided to halt the development of a Vail conference center in November 2005, the sales- and lodging-tax increases that had previously been approved to support the facility were also halted. The money collected has been earning interest since Jan. 1, 2006, and the town of Vail is now moving toward re-allocating those funds. Unfortunately, there is not much precedent for this type of thing, so the Town Council, wisely, is proceeding with caution.The Vail Valley Partnerships newly formed Lodging Committee has formed a task force to work with the town to ensure the money is redirected in a responsible and meaningful way. While some time has passed since the tax was collected, it should not be forgotten how and why the business community supported the lodging tax intended to build the conference center and the risk it took in adding more tax to its products and services.There is fierce competition among businesses in the hospitality sector. Sure, youll never find a friendlier group of businesses after all, they are in the business of being friendly but make no mistake; they take their competition very seriously. And they should. Competition is the cornerstone of our capitalist society, and healthy competition assures prices stay in check and services stay in demand. But when lodges add a 1.5 percent tax on its guests, or a restaurant adds an additional 0.5 percent to your bill, those businesses know full well the risk they are taking.When it came to the conference-center taxes, Vail businesses were supportive, knowing that a conference center would attract more guests to Vail, even during the offseason. More guests mean more business, and more business is always good.The risk the business community took must be part of the discussion to ensure that the conference-center-tax money is reallocated to programs and efforts that will make their risk worthwhile. Specifically, redirecting the money should support bringing more guests to Vail. I applaud the town of Vail for recognizing this important voice and ensuring that a responsible course of action is taken rather than a hasty one.The conference-center fund has topped $8 million, and while it may seem like a lot of money, it can be spent very quickly if the issue is not strategically addressed. During our early discussions with lodges, some interesting ideas were proposed, including: support of the summer and fall air program, which provides marketing support to bring big-jet service to the Eagle County Regional Airport; supplementing a conference facility in the Lionshead Parking Structure redevelopment, creating a true public-private partnership to attract guests; refurbishing Dobson Arena to allow for more meetings; and even creating a rainy-day fund in the event a large marketing initiative is required to sustain the tourism economy. The important thing is not what ideas are being generated but rather that the conversation has begun in earnest to discover the best way to reallocate these funds.While the Partnership is a valleywide organization, and we represent business interests from East Vail to Dotsero, the issue before us is to determine how the town of Vail should reallocate funds to bring guests to Vail. In no way does the Partnership mean to imply that money should be directed to Vail businesses that collected the tax. Nor are we proponents of one idea over another. It is the responsibility of the Partnership to ensure that the voice of the business community is heard and that the opinions, ideas and concerns of the business community be honored by the party making the final decision. Of course, the final decision in this case will be made by the voters of Vail. The discussion is just beginning, and the Partnership is proud to represent the interests of Vail businesses while working with the town to assure the money will be spent in the spirit in which it was collected to bring more guests to Vail. Stay tuned, and if youre a lodge in Vail, please consider attending our lodging-committee meetings. If youre a retailer or restaurateur in Vail, weve got a committee for you, too. Give us a call at 476-1000, and let us show you how we can represent your interests.