Voters now key as SVRA looks to revamp operation | AspenTimes.com

Voters now key as SVRA looks to revamp operation

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A new Snowmass Village Resort Association could be on the way.

The SVRA and the Snowmass Village Town Council agreed in principle Thursday to a deal that would take the SVRA out of the resort-marketing business and rescind its assessment, or tax, on retail stores and restaurants. The deal would also focus the association on a primary mission of filling up the Snowmass Conference Center with group business.

However, most of the arrangement depends on voters in Snowmass Village approving a townwide sales tax of 2 percent or 2.5 percent in November.

“Our goal is to make the SVRA self-sufficient, meaning get rid the assessments and be self-sufficient through the conference center and group sales commissions,” said Hiram Champlain, SVRA board chairman.

The deal between the SVRA and the town has several key points. The first is that the town has agreed to sell the conference center to the SVRA for $2.58 million, which is the remaining amount of the debt owed on the building. The town technically owns the building but the SVRA has been paying for it.

In essence, the town is transferring formal ownership of the $8 million facility to the SVRA, which will then finish paying off the building. This will allow the SVRA to restructure and extend its debt on the conference center, thus dramatically lowering its current annual payments of about $600,000.

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With that taken care of, the SVRA has agreed that it will support the Town Council’s efforts to win passage in November of the townwide sales tax.

Today, SVRA levies a civic assessment, or sales tax, on retailers and restaurants within the original West Village area near the Snowmass mall. That money is supposed to go toward marketing and special events in the resort but often over the years has gone to support other SVRA activities.

With a townwide tax, businesses outside of SVRA’s boundaries, including Base Village, the on-mountain restaurants and the Snowmass Center, which houses the town’s only grocery store, would also pay a marketing tax.

The Town Council plans on setting up a separate marketing commission to make decisions about how to spend the estimated $2.5 million on marketing and special events. The council is still working on the exact structure of the commission as well as ballot language for November.

“We want to help pass this tax,” said Champlin. “We think that it makes sense for the entire town of Snowmass to pay for marketing and special events and not just the few of the SVRA. Right now, SVRA businesses are the majority in town, but won’t be after Base Village comes on line. And the council wanted assurance from us that we won’t stab them in the back, and we’re willing to give it to them.”

So not only will the SVRA help to get the townwide tax passed, it has agreed to stop charging businesses within its boundaries the 3.25 percent civic assessment for at least five years. SVRA said that if it were to reinstate the tax, 51 percent of its total members would have to agree to do so. Not just 51 percent of the SVRA members who voted in an election, but 51 percent of its total members, which number around 2,700.

That was enough to satisfy the Town Council, according to Councilman Bob Purvis. The council agreed to the deal in a meeting on Thursday morning.

If the townwide tax passes, and SVRA gets out of the marketing game, it will be radically different organization than it was just a year ago. Earlier this year, it merged its money-losing central reservations department with Aspen Central Reservations to create Stay Aspen/Snowmass.

“We own a third of that entity,” said Champlin. “Instead of central reservations costing us $250,000, the first year of our merger, Stay Aspen/Snowmass made a profit of $350,000. That’s a pretty big swing.”

Without a reservations department and without a resort-marketing business, the SVRA would focus on selling the Snowmass Conference Center and lodging in Snowmass Village to group conventions.

Champlin said the ongoing transformation of the SVRA was designed to ensure that the organization made money.

“We’re just cleaning up the messes to try and make money,” said Champlin, who runs a broadcasting company in Oklahoma and serves on the SVRA board because he owns a condo in the village. “I can’t believe this thing was run for so long where nobody cared about making money. Maybe I’m just a dumb Okie, but we have to make money here. So we can afford to come to Snowmass Village.”

And Champlin said there is at least one more millstone around the SVRA’s neck, and that’s the long-term leases the organization holds on what is now empty space.

The SVRA pays $200,000 a year to Shell Properties for a space one flight below the Snowmass mall where its central reservations department used to be. And it pays close to another $200,000 a year for the Bedford Ballroom space in the Timbermill building. That space used to be home to the village’s only movie theater. Now it is mostly a big, empty room. It was used three times last year for conferences, Champlin said.

“We’ll gladly sublet it to anybody,” he said. “If you need some space, give us a call and make us an offer.”

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