Vail conference center busts budget
VAIL – The answer is, “Maybe $17 million.”The question, in this case, is, “How much is the Vail conference center project over budget?”Of course, the numbers are estimates. The center could only be $7 million over budget. The most likely answer is that town officials probably need to find an extra $10 million to build the center as it’s currently designed.Whatever the amount, the bottom line, says Vail Community Development Director Russell Forrest, is, “We can’t afford to build with the money we have and the way we’ve budgeted.”
How to, or whether to, cover that shortfall is the problem the Vail Town Council will wrestle with Tuesday in front of what’s expected to be a packed town hall. The council has scheduled three hours for an everything-on-the-table hash-out of all the current information about the costs, who might build the center and what firms might run it. The meeting could end with a decision: The council could kill the center, try to get the price tag down, or seek more tax money to cover the shortfalls, among other alternatives. Bob Fritch, owner of the Sitzmark Lodge and a member of a petition committee working to force another election on the center, said he is eager to see all the facts laid out in one place. “There’s always something that could come up that would change my opinion,” Fritch said, “but I don’t feel the town is set up to accommodate that kind of convention business.”
Perhaps the biggest concern for opponents is the financial risk to town taxpayers.An estimate from HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting indicates the center will lose nearly $1 million per year in 2012, when the facility is expected to operate as well as it ever will.Two firms bidding on operating the center estimate a smaller loss in 2012, but the fact remains the center will cost more to run than it takes in. Opponents worry the taxes dedicated to the center wouldn’t be able to cover those operating losses, which would leave the town on the hook to make up the difference. Extreme operating costs might change one supporter’s mind.
“If someone showed me statistics where conference centers lose money nationwide, I’d have to think about it,” said Loren Gifford, owner of Vail Valley Ace Hardware. But, Gifford said, he hasn’t seen information like that.”Everything I’ve seen shows that convention centers lose money and conference centers make money,” Gifford said. The difference between “convention” and “conference” seems subtle. But, Forrest said, it’s important. “There’s a major difference between convention centers in metropolitan areas and conference centers in resorts,” Forrest said. “The conference centers seem to perform better.”Whether conference centers make money probably has less to do with any decision made Tuesday than the numbers that really matter: the ones that add up to a multi-million-dollar shortfall.On Friday, town council members had just received the thick, three-ring notebooks packed with five pounds or more of facts and figures.
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