Plan in works to eliminate Snowmass ‘property tax’ |

Plan in works to eliminate Snowmass ‘property tax’

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Snowmass Village Resort Association has a new focus. And a new goal.

The shrinking organization, which recently folded its central reservations department, and will soon be out of the marketing and special events business, now plans to focus solely on selling group business into the Snowmass conference center.

And the new goal, set at its quarterly meeting last Friday, is to make enough money booking groups that it can eliminate its common assessment ? similar to a property tax ? on the condos within its boundaries.

“We are intent on eliminating the common assessments for the upcoming year,” said Hiram Champlin, the chair of the SVRA’s board of governors. “The first thing we want to do is cut out the common assessments. And our goal within five years is to bring both the common and the civic assessments down to zero.”

A civic assessment is like a sales tax on lodging rentals. Last fall, the SVRA agreed to waive its civic assessment on retail and restaurant sales and support a townwide 2.5 percent sales tax to fund marketing, special events and public relations. However, the organization later raised its civic assessment on lodging sales as a trade-off for eliminating a $7 per person conference center user fee that was difficult to collect.

In the past, the organization brought in close to $4 million annually in mandatory assessments on 65 percent of the lodges, condos and retail shops in the resort.

The balance of the resort’s commercial operations ? such as the Snowmass Center and the proposed “Snowmass Village” base area, formerly known as Base Village ? are outside of the SVRA’s physical boundaries, which encompasses most of the development lining the Fanny Hill trail at the bottom of the Snowmass Ski Area.

The decision to wean the organization from its assessment revenues was taken in an executive session held by the SVRA board on Friday afternoon.

SVRA President Brett Huske was even asked to leave the room as the board went behind closed doors.

“We have got to figure out what this organization is about,” said board member Dick Wallace, a property owner at the Timberline condos, during the open portion of the meeting.

The call to refine the strategic direction of the SVRA has been heard frequently over the past two years. Many agree the organization was failing to satisfy those who depended on its marketing. It was also losing money on its central reservations program and struggling to fill its conference center ? all while levying what some felt were overly stiff mandatory assessments.

“They would like to get it to the point where it is a commission-driven organization,” said Huske of the board. “Those were my marching orders on Friday.”

Under the newly envisioned model, lodges and condo owners inside SVRA’s boundaries would pay the organization a commission for bringing them group business.

If the model is successful, the SVRA would make enough through commissions to cover its cost of sales. And the organization might then be more attractive for hotels and lodges outside of SVRA’s boundaries to also use, such as Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., which are partners in the “Snowmass Village” project, formerly known as Base Village.

That project, if approved by the town of Snowmass Village, will include almost as much meeting space as the Snowmass conference center. And someone is going to have to fill it with meetings.

“If additional meeting space comes on line, and we can play a role in that, so much more the value of SVRA,” said Huske. “I know the interest is there from our standpoint.”

The SVRA’s streamlined focus now means there are fewer employees working there. Greg Hailey, the organization’s vice president of finance and a 16-year employee, was let go last month. And Sandy Ferlisi, the director of communications, has taken a monthlong personal leave and may or may not return to work for the remainder of the season, when her position is to be eliminated.

At the meeting, the group also resolved a $150,000 dispute with the owners of the Silvertree Hotel regarding the use of the hotel’s meeting space by group’s booked by SVRA. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the SVRA and the Silvertree appear to be on good terms, as they also agreed on a more equitable method to book each other’s meeting space as the need arises.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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