Voters to be asked for more lodging
Scott N. Miller
May 17, 2005
VAIL - It's going to take more money to build a conference center in Vail. Voters will decide this fall whether to raise it.
To build a center, voters will be asked to roughly double the lodging tax they passed in November of 2002. The exact amount of the increase voters are asked for will be nailed down in the next few weeks.
A ballot issue for a tax hike could effectively kill a petition drive launched earlier this spring to force another vote on the center.
The council's 6-1 vote - with Councilor Diana Donovan opposed - came after a long explanation of an ultimately simple fact: The taxes approved in 2002 won't pay for the conference center that's now in the planning stages.
Town officials say the center as proposed is anywhere between $7 million and $17 million too expensive based on the money available, a 1.5 percent lodging tax and .5 percent sales tax.
Council members were presented three options: Killing the center, making it small enough to fit the money available, or asking for more money.
With the exception of Donovan and a group of opponents in the audience, sentiment generally favored trying to find more money to build what's been proposed: A building with about 40,000 square feet of meeting space, located on the east end of the Lionshead parking structure.
In addition to steadily rising construction costs, council members were also concerned about the prospect of essentially permanent operating deficits.
An economic study by HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting of Chicago indicates the operating losses will hover around $1 million, even after the facility is established.
That's well above the amount in the current tax available for operations, roughly $800,000 per year of the $3.5 million raised.
"It's clear that $800,000 is not sufficient to handle the operating deficits," Councilor Kent Logan said.
Logan, who is also chairman of the town's conference center advisory committee said he has been focused on one main point: reducing risk to town taxpayers as much as possible. About the only way to do that, Logan said, is boost the current $3.5 million dedicated to the center to at least $5 million.
Logan added that doubling the lodging tax dedicated to the center would add about $4 to the average room rate in Vail.
"The outcome is good for tonight," said Tom Steinberg, a member of the petition committee seeking another vote on the center.
Steinberg wasn't quite ready to pronounce the petition drive dead, but added, "If they do what they said they'll do, then it probably is."
Vail resident Mark Gordon, long a supporter of the conference center, said the council did what it needed to do.
"This was really the only thing that could be done," Gordon said.
While council members agreed to put the whole tax burden on lodges, one lodge manager said he'd like to see the burden spread around more.
"I think the more fair thing would be a package similar to the one in 2002," said Rob LeVine, manager of the Antlers in Lionshead. "But we have to balance fairness with pragmatism. People said in 2002 we'd never get a sales tax passed, but we did. But do we really want to push that again now? Probably not."
Staff Writer Scott Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or email@example.com
If voters say yes
December 2005: Bonds are sold
April 2006: Groundbreaking