Final Vail conference center showdown begins

A 'no' vote on Election Day could mean end of long-debated proposal


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Opposing campaigns are now active ahead of this fallís do-or-die vote for Vailís controversial conference center project.
Special to the Daily

Edward Stoner
October 3, 2005

VAIL - Opposing sides are gearing up for a final showdown on Vail's long-fought-over conference center.

Supporters, mainly merchants and hoteliers, say a conference center next to the Lionshead parking garage will pump money into Vail's economy. Opponents, including a group of residents that tried to force a second vote on the center earlier this year, say the potential debt is too risky for the town.

"All this stuff they're pitching is based on hocus pocus," Rob Ford, an opponent of the center, said of supporters' promises of economic gains. "It's not viable data."

On Nov. 8, voters will be asked to weigh in on a lodging tax increase to help fund construction and operation of a $64.8 million conference center. In 2002, voters approved a tax increase that was later determined to be insufficient to build and operate the conference center. The vote therefore, is essentially a do-or-die vote on the center.

"I'm convinced that if everybody knew what the revenue stream was from the tax that's in place as well as the one proposed in November, as well as the conservatism of those numbers, there's no way this will be a drain on the taxpayers' money," said Rob LeVine, a supporter of the center.

A pro-conference center group called Citizens for Vail's Future is composed primarily of business owners from around the valley. The group is using word of mouth to push the conference center, and plans to advertise and put up yard signs.

Its members also are meeting with different groups, including the Rotary Club, said LeVine, one of the organizers. They also conducted a telephone poll to gauge the public's opinions.

LeVine said there's already a long list of groups that would come to a Vail conference center. He also said the center won't be a burden to taxpayers.

"I just want to make sure people understand the facts," he said.

Pam Stenmark of the Evergreen Lodge, who is part of the pro-conference center group, said the center would boost sales at lodges, shops, retail and bars.

'Outgunned, outmanned and outspent'

The opposition group, said Ford, a former Vail mayor, is trying to educate the public about risks "the business interests don't want to talk about," he said.

His group is trying to bring an expert on conference centers to the valley to give a seminar on why it's a losing proposition, he said.

The people of Vail are on the hook for any debt undertaken by the town, he said. Also, the projections that proponents use to push the center are based on outdated numbers that don't reflect the current state of the conference center industry, he said.

Ford said his campaign is grassroots compared to the supporters' efforts.

"We are outgunned, outmanned and outspent by business interests 100 to one," he said. "It's more of a David-and-Goliath scene."

Both groups are registered with the town of Vail to accept donations for their causes. The first date that those funds will be reported is Oct. 18. Ford's group is the same one that registered when the group tried to force a second vote on the center.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 604, or

Vail, Colorado