SVRA eyes townwide tax | AspenTimes.com

SVRA eyes townwide tax

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Snowmass Village Resort Association on Friday agreed in principle to get out of the resort marketing business.

But it decided to stay in the conference center business, at least for now.

All but one of the 10 SVRA board members endorsed the concept of dropping its civic assessment, which is like a retail sales tax, if Snowmass voters approve a new townwide marketing tax in November.

“I think it is the right direction,” said Stan Kornasiewicz, an SVRA board member and the president of Alpine Bank in Snowmass Village. “I think it is a great opportunity to get a fresh start.”

Despite its ability to raise millions through its assessments, which function like sales and property taxes, the SVRA is struggling financially and is seeking to reinvent itself.

“What business do we want this organization to be in?” asked John Quigley, a board member and senior vice president of the Silvertree Hotel.

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It’s a question Quigley has asked at several of the past quarterly SVRA board meetings.

So far, the board has answered the question by agreeing to disband its central lodging reservations unit and merge it with one in Aspen to form Stay Aspen-Snowmass.

And on Friday, it answered by agreeing in principle to stop taxing merchants in the Snowmass mall to raise money for resort marketing and special events. Instead, the association wants to let the town levy the taxes and let a new community marketing organization sell the resort.

The SVRA, however, would still charge its members a common assessment, which functions like a property tax and costs most condo owners in Snowmass Village about $400 a year.

And, board members acknowledged, the SVRA’s dropping of the civic assessment would be voluntary, and there would be nothing to prevent the SVRA from levying the assessment again, except perhaps political pressure.

Many merchants over the past two decades have questioned the effectiveness of SVRA’s resort marketing. And they’ve also complained that the SVRA’s 3.25 percent assessment, on top of other town, country and state sales taxes, pushes the perceived retail sales tax on the mall up over 11 percent.

Snowmass voters will now likely be asked in November to approve a new sales and lodging tax, but it’s thought they will only say yes if the SVRA’s tax goes away.

“The reality is that if the civic assessment is not dropped, this question won’t pass,” said Robert Sinko, an SVRA board member who represents the Crestwood condos. The proposed townwide sales tax could be between 2 and 2.25 percent, which would raise roughly $2 million annually.

Coloring the entire SVRA meeting was the organization’s urgent need to refinance its remaining $1 million debt on the conference center.

If it does not refinance, board Chairman Hiram Champlain said the organization may have to lay off some of its sales force.

“It’s either that [refinance] or we are going to do some serious hunkering down,” Champlain said.

And part of that “hunkering down” may also include not coming through on $175,000 pledged to support the Janus Jazz Aspen Snowmass summer concerts.

But in order to refinance, the SVRA needs to own the conference center.

The SVRA has paid millions of dollars toward the conference center since the 1980s, but it does not technically own the building because of how the original loan was structured.

The town is now willing to “sell” the conference center to the SVRA for the remaining $2.58 million left on the loan, but only if the SVRA agrees to support the proposed townwide tax for marketing and agrees to drop its civic assessment.

In the words of Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester, the two issues are “inextricably linked.”

Also at Friday’s meeting, the board rebuffed a proposal from Silvertree Hotel owner Bill Burwell to assume the management of the Snowmass Conference Center.

By a vote of 7-3, the board rejected the proposed one-year lease, with many members saying it would give the Silvertree, next to the conference center, too big of an advantage over other hotels and lodges in the village.