Vail says ‘no’ to conference
Signs supporting Vail's
conference center sit in the ground as people rally outside
Vail town hall during election night Tuesday in Vail. Vail
voters are to decide whether the town should raise lodging
taxes by up to 1.5 percent to help pay for the conference
Preston Utley/Vail Daily
November 8, 2005
VAIL — For fewer than a dozen people in the room,
the cheer that went up was thunderous when opponents of the conference
center learned voters killed the facility Tuesday.
They whistled, clapped and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne to
toast the defeat of the center by an 806-542 vote — that’s 60 percent
of the voters saying ‘no.’
“I never doubted it for a moment,” said town activist Kaye Ferry, who
lobbied against the center. “We’re just so happy it went down by such
a large margin. I’m glad to see people didn’t get the wool pulled over
their eyes this time. It didn’t just sneak through.”
Voters turned down a lodging tax increase that would have raised the
money needed to build the conference center.
Despite a 2002 vote to increase lodging taxes by 1.5 percent and sales
tax by 0.5 percent, those funds were found to be insufficient to build
and operate the center. That vote was a close and controversial
“This is not a victory for us, it’s a victory for Vail,” said former
Vail mayor Rob Ford.
Ford said opponents of the conference center were people who loved
Vail and supporters were more geared toward business interests.
‘A ski town, not a city’
The conference center, which would have been built
between Dobson Arena and the Lionshead parking garage, could have
generated $34.1 million a year for Vail, said a HVS International
The center was also expected to create jobs, but opponents had
continually argued the data used to make the predictions was flawed.
“(Those in favor) were telling people this was going to pump money
into the economy, but we felt the Vail voter would see through this as
long as they were educated,” Ford said. “Once they had the facts, they
were able to do what was right.”
Conference center opponents said Vail residents would have been
responsible for any debt the center incurred. Stating conference
center space around the United States is increasing while demand is
decreasing, opponents feared the center would have become a money pit.
“You would have been marginalizing Vail’s future for 30-odd years, so
you could never do anything else,” longtime Vail resident Tom
Steinberg said. “The people pushing it were from downvalley — they
never had anything to lose. Vail is my third child. This is very happy
Longtime Vail resident Fred Distelhorst said on a recent trip he spoke
with a hotel executive in New York who told him his conference center
bookings had dropped from 70 percent to 40 percent.
“We’re nuts if we build this thing, so that’s how I feel,” Distelhorst
Heidi Young said she considered the character of Vail as well as
finances when voting “no.”
“This is a ski town, not a city,” Young said. “I don’t think the
guests should have to pay more, and I don’t see a need for (the
conference center). Vail should stay the way it is and not get so
While Vail resident Susan Bird voted against the tax increase, she
said she liked the idea of a conference center. But she doesn’t want
Vail to bear the financial burden alone.
“I think all of Eagle County should be paying for it,” Bird said. “It
should be in the county election to vote on funding. The majority of
people are moving downvalley, and they’re commuting to Vail. They
should be paying for it too. Otherwise, the tax burden becomes mine.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve seen what bad budgeting can
‘Good for the off-season’
Expecting a close vote, those in favor of the
conference center were confident about victory.
“I was very surprised,” said Pam Stenmark, who had lobbied in favor of
the facility. “I’m still adjusting to the news. I don’t know why
people voted this way. We have a lot to learn about what the Vail
voter is thinking.”
Stenmark said she didn’t think voters were actually opposed to the
conference center, but perhaps its design or location.
Karen Chandler, who voted for the tax increase said, “The town is
growing, and it’s important to keep the money coming.”
“From what I’ve read, we’re turning away large groups,” Chandler said.
“It would be good for the off-season and would bring in more
Geoffrey Ryan, who works at Vail Ski Tech, said the tax would’ve been
worth more customers in his shop during the summer, spring and fall.
Other cited business opportunities and Vail’s continued financial
success as reasons for voting for the tax increase. One Vail woman
said her “yes” vote came from a desire to see more “positive” in Vail.
“There’s been a lot of negativity lately, like when they voted down
Crossroads,” said Elaine Butt, referring to another controversial
development project. “This may be good for the town.”
Opponents said nixing the conference center is
what will keep Vail economically viable.
“The conference center has been a full-time job for the town of Vail
to the detriment of other projects,” Ferry said. “Now it’s time to do
what the voters want to do instead of what the lodging interests want
Because of the vote’s failure, the town will have to either return the
money collected from the 2002 tax to citizens or allow voters to
approve another use for the dough — all $7 million of it.
“We have one era behind us, and I look forward to another — whatever
that may be,” said Jim LaMont, who opposed the conference center. “It
will take the community a long time to understand what took place
here, but I just see change.”
Vail Daily correspondent Lindsay Jo Hackman contributed to this story.
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or