Blow dealt for Colorado Springs tourism budget

By Monica Mendoza Updated: December 5, 2013 at 8:56 am • Published: December 4, 2013 | 7:35 pm 0

About five months ago, Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, prepared his 2014 budget.

Everything in it, from staffing to marketing, was based on the CVB receiving its annual infusion of money from the city's Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax collections.

But now the CVB 2014 budget is on shaky ground, because the City Council voted in November to hold half of the planned $2.66 million contribution until the council's LART committee can review the budget a second time and make a decision in January.

The situation leaves the CVB up in the air. Price said the CVB works at least one year out in buying advertising and setting up trade shows, and he's worried.

"From a marketing plan standpoint and media standpoint, we've been planning for that (money) all along," he said. "To wait until January is very late in the game to be withholding and cutting budgets for someone who operates a business."

He hasn't made any backup plan, but said a cut to the CVB budget would mean reducing the annual $900,000 advertising budget and the number of trade shows CVB representatives attend each year, which was 40 in 2013. He added that the region's tourism industry is trying to recover from the hit it took the past two summers from natural disasters that drew national media attention.

It's unclear what the council hopes to uncover in the second round of budget review, said Councilwoman Jan Martin, who is frustrated over the group's indecision.

The LART committee combed the CVB budget and recommended the city spend $2.66 million on the tourism organization, and the council discussed it more than once during the budget hearings, she said. "How much time, how many public meetings do we have to have on this?" Martin said.

City Council President Keith King said he did not believe delaying a decision until January is an imposition on the CVB, which receives LART money in monthly installments. He is concerned that the city's LART collections have flatlined, and wonders if a new CVB marketing strategy is needed. He said he wants to see where the CVB is spending its advertising dollars.

But it is debilitating to pull funding that the CVB has received for 20 years only one month before the start of the 2014 budget year, said Steve Bartolin, president of The Broadmoor.

"The CVB does make many of their media buys on a quarterly basis; however, a lot of the buys are heavily weighted in the first two quarters of the year to have the maximum impact for the coming season," he wrote in a letter to the nine council members. "The group/convention advertising, promotions and trade shows are planned out a year in advance."

Also in play is funding for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, which has an annual operating budget of about $3.5 million and receives about $340,000 from the city and from Colorado Springs Utilities.

The organization, charged with recruiting new businesses and retaining existing businesses, only received half of its $70,000 funding from the city's LART fund and did not receive funds from Utilities, which was slated to give the business alliance $270,000.

The council, which doubles as the Utilities board of directors, approved on first reading the 2014 Utilities $1.15 billion budget but wants to spend more time discussing the funds it gives to local nonprofit organizations and the business alliance.

Joe Raso, business alliance executive director, declined to comment on how the delay affects his 2014 budget.

Giving money to any organization is risky, said Tom Neppl, 2014 business alliance chairman of the board.

But nearly every community with a successful economic development program has support from local government, he said.

And, he added, it could be more risky for the city not to invest in economic development.

"The business community has a significant role in acquiring LART taxes, considering all of the companies who have customers, prospects and suppliers traveling to our community and spending dollars," Neppl said. "Expecting money back from LART should not be at all questionable."

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