Town of Vail to host open house on conference center funds on April 19

By Real Vail
April 13, 2011
The Town of Vail will sponsor an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19 to gather public comments on concepts for a possible ballot issue to reallocate monies from the Conference Center Fund. The open house will be held in the Vail Town Council Chambers, 75 S. Frontage Rd., and will take place prior to the start of the council's regular evening meeting.

The council has been reviewing concepts representing the highest and best use of the $9.4 million fund after establishing a goal to ask voters to use the funds for a capital asset, either a new or enhanced existing facility, while providing a long-term benefit to the town to increase the overall economic vitality.

Projects under consideration include a remodel of the Golf Clubhouse with the addition of an indoor/outdoor events pavilion, estimated at $6.8 million; a remodel and expansion of the Vail Village Visitor Center to support a state of the art welcome and heritage center, estimated at $4.8 million; and expansion of the recreational fields at Ford Park which would allow for the addition of one full-sized soccer field on the site, estimated at $4.5 million. A fourth concept, to improve the lower bench of Ford Park including an expansion of the lawn seating area at the amphitheater, is being proposed as a public-private partnership by the Vail Valley Foundation, with a $5 million public investment.

Architects, town staff and others responsible for developing the concepts will be available at the open house to answer questions. Members of the public will be asked to evaluate the proposals based on criteria established earlier by the town council:

* Potential to increase occupancy
* Potential for sales tax growth as a result of the investment
* Ability to enhance the experience for those who live, work and play in Vail
* There could be future opportunities to expand and/or enhance the amenity
* Project can be realistically accomplished, including financial feasibility and can meet such requirements as zoning and parking, etc.
* Ability to leverage other funding sources available, i.e. private investment, Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
* Measurable return on investment
* Plan for ongoing operational costs to be funded

The council is considering the possibility of asking voters to determine the future of the conference center funds during a special election on Aug. 23. A second option is to add the issue to the Nov. 8 regular election ballot.

The town council will continue its discussion of a preferred election date and the type of ballot question to pursue during its April 19 meeting. Ballot options include narrowing the projects to an amount in keeping with the $9.4 million in available funding or adding all of the proposed concepts to the ballot with projects receiving the most votes moving forward. Another option is to obtain general authority to proceed in broader categories that encompass different projects, but would be specific enough that voters would understand how the funds would be used.

If the ballot question fails, the town must be prepared to refund the remaining money. One such refund option under consideration is for the town to suspend a small portion of the existing sales tax on lodging for a term of years or until the full refund amount is reached. As an example, if the sales tax on lodging were reduced from 4 percent to 3.7 percent and lodging sales remained at 2010 levels, the unspent tax collections would be repaid in 20 years.

In addition to the April 19 open house, public comments will be gathered during presentations to the Vail Economic Advisory Council, Lionshead Merchants group, Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council and the Vail Chamber and Business Association. A summary of the public input sessions will be presented to the town council at its May 3 meeting to determine if the council has the information it needs to begin formulating a ballot question.

The conference center funds were collected following approval by voters in 2002 of a 1.5 percent lodging tax and a .5 percent sales tax for the purpose of building and operating a conference center. In 2005, voters rejected a second ballot issue that would have increased the lodging tax to cover additional costs of construction and operation of the conference center. In rejecting the tax increase, the electors also voted to terminate the existing tax and “either refund any remaining revenues from such taxes pursuant to such refund methodology as the town council determines or submit a question to the voters on how such revenues shall be used.” Since 2006, the council has been gathering information to submit a question to the voters in lieu of a refund.

Public comments may be forwarded to the town council at any time by e-mailing or leaving a voice mail at 479-1860, ext. 8.

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