still fingering trigger on convention center
Question lingers about how well $45 million facility would do
Colo. – Vail town officials continue to take steps toward building a
conference center at a cost of $36 million to $45 million, but have not
committed themselves. As has been the case for 20 years, the agonizing,
unanswered question is whether there will be enough 450-person groups
booking conferences to justify this investment.
While better served by transportation than most resorts, Vail remains a bit off the beaten bath for such a big facility. Convention planners figure a conference facility needs to be within 30 minutes of an airport. Vail is now 125 miles from Denver International Airport, separated by an increasingly congested Interstate 70. The local Eagle County Regional Airport is only 35 miles away, but the flight schedule – except possibly winter – remains suspect.
the town council and a civic advisory committee appear dead-locked on
the issue of whether to proceed with the building plans. The town
council is expected to get off dead-center in May or June. But if the
council does move forward, a citizens group led by former mayor Rob Ford
vows to pursue a referendum somewhat similar to what recently happened
in Snowmass Village.
fully expects an ongoing subsidy for the conference center. The
disagreement is how much subsidy it will require. A lodging tax approved
by town voters three years ago, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, is
generating $3.5 million a year. If bonds for construction are sold, they
cannot exceed $2.7 million per year. That would leave $700,000 a year to
cover operating deficits, although estimates of the deficit run up to
study by HVS Convention Sports and Entertainment Facilities Consulting
found enough demand to justify the conference center. The conference
center would generate $33 million in new spending in the town economy
and support 329 jobs, the consultants said. As well, municipal tax
coffers would fatten by $1.4 million annually, the consultants say. But,
stressed the consultants, the convention center must be an
architecturally attractive if it is to get strong business volume.
influential group called the Vail Village Homeowners Association is
allied with Ford, the former mayor. Since the original vote in November
2002, notes Jim Lamont, the group’s executive director, significant
financial investment in Vail – current estimates run to $1 billion –
has been committed. “There are better development opportunities
emerging for Vail, which build upon the community’s well established
attributes, rater than striking out in a new speculative direction with
the Conference Center,” he writes in a memorandum to his members.
Fresh from a trip to the Alps, he argues that Vail, with its reinvented
man-made landscape, should instead work harder to promote itself to
Europeans as a tourist resort. The conference center, says Lamont’s
group, would benefit a relatively small sector of the business community
(primarily hotels), while more conventional tourism would presumably
have a broader community benefit.
also cites a Forbes magazine article that takes aim at the proliferating
new and expanded convention centers. “Where do politicians get the
crazy idea that the world needs yet another convention center? From the
experts, of course,” the article begins, before taking aim at an
expanded trade hall in Portland.
to criticism that the town is moving either too fast or too slow, Mayor
Rod Slifer responded in a March op-ed piece in the Vail Daily that the
council is moving just right for the scope of the project, taking
measured, careful steps. The town has hired Architectural Resource
Consultants Inc. to be the owner representative; Piper Jaffray, an
investment banking firm; and Fentress Bradburn Architects Inc.
natural-looking architectural theme offered by Fentress Bradburn was
chosen by the town council, but the council also wanted refinements.
Above is what the refined model looks like.