Vail Daily: Editorial

Community should have last call

Don Rogers
May 1, 2005



It's not often that the editor disagrees with his paper's considered editorial position. Especially when he writes most of them.

But I'm on the other side of Our View where voting again on the Vail conference center is concerned.

The paper's judgment is that it would be silly to revote on a question settled in an election more than two years ago. Whether by four, 44, 104 or 1,004 votes, the community decided in November 2002 to collect the taxes needed to build a conference center. (The correct number, incidentally, is 44.)

We didn't hold another election after the Supreme Court handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000, even though Al Gore had more votes. We didn't revote in Eagle County when the open space tax passed by 50 votes in 2002. So why run through this all again in Vail over the conference center? It's done. Move on. Build the thing already.

I believe wholeheartedly in building the thing. As has been acknowledged throughout the discussion about the center, there is risk involved. There always is. Think of the risk when Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton followed through with their kooky notion to build a ski resort here.

We also know that a conference center is a public amenity, much like rec centers, libraries and such that require public funding to maintain. That's hardly a deep, dark secret. The value of a conference center lies in the economic boost it brings, not as a profit center of its own.

I do think that boost for Vail would be significant enough to justify building and operating a conference center next to the Dobson Ice Arena, which is the ideal location in Vail for the facility. What's the term for the potential of arena and conference center next door to each other? Synergy.

The center would help extend Vail's visiting seasons by, yes, filling more hotel rooms longer and bringing more people into the restaurants and shops that stay open in the off-seasons.

No, town will not swarm over with people in funny hats, and I highly doubt that no one will come because there's a convention center in Waterloo, Iowa, too. Vail is special enough that it will fare well in the conference center business. We don't really have much to fear there.

I don't think we should fear holding another election on this, either. It is a big decision for Vail. And the critics are correct that much has changed since November 2002 with the plans.

Make no mistake, most of the people calling for another election mainly want to kill the center. Their interest really isn't in having more information made available. This is a last gasp to stop the thing.

I see pretty much the usual suspects who surface to fight every turn toward progress in Vail. Perhaps that's unfair. But it is what I see.

The naysayers were wrong with Ford, Dobson, Donovan, Middle Creek, among others - all successful ventures, sometimes surprisingly so. I believe they are wrong again.

Still, building a conference center is a big decision. The community should be able to collectively sign off on the final plan. The election two years ago really was about how to fund the venture. Since then, it's true, the proposed location has moved, the plan has evolved, the design mostly set, and parking arranged.

It's all enough to merit a referendum if the Vail Town Council decides to move forward. The group ready to push for an election only needs 539 valid signatures of Vail voters. I would call that inevitable.

The procedure is in place for the community to have the final say on this and other issues. So how can we say it would be wrong to employ it?

Besides, over the past couple of decades Vail's voters have had a few of chances to approve a conference center and turned the opportunity down.

So what's wrong with one more vote? Other than the possibility the voters may reject the conference center this time? I think they'd be making a mistake. But you know, this should be the community's decision at this point. Now that's democracy.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or
editor@vaildaily.com