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City Council wants proof that events, organizations boost economy

August 14, 2013 Updated: August 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Next year at this time, local event and program organizers who get city tax dollars for tourism and economic development programs will have to sing for their supper.

Colorado Springs City Council has vowed to revamp the way it doles money from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund, which sets aside about $4 million annually for events and organizations charged with bringing in tourists and economic development.

Council members want proof that the money the city spends on such events as the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic and the Rocky Mountain State Games has a return on its investment.

"When you allocate money, you need to have a specific outcome or result," said council member Helen Collins. "We need to see the outcome so if we need to redesign it next year, we can do that."

Each year, event organizers and local organizations such as the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, apply to the city for LART money.

Over the years, about a dozen events, such as the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the Festival of Lights Parade, have been deemed city-sponsored events and automatically receive money without having to show performance, said city council member Jan Martin. Additionally, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau automatically receive two-thirds of the $4 million LART funds. But there is no rule that says the visitors bureau has to get that slice of the LART pie, Martin said.

"We have just sort of let LART run along for years," Martin said. "We have never measured the success of the programs."

Starting this year, any event or organization the gets LART money must provide an economic impact report to the city, and that includes the visitors bureau, Martin said.

For at least 20 years, the visitors bureau has received about 65 percent of the available LART funds, said Doug Price, president and CEO. This year, the visitors bureau asked for $3.1 million but the LART committee is recommending $2.6 million. Price wanted the extra money to run an advertising campaign directed at leisure travelers in the off-season.

"We solicit meetings and events to come here year-around but we don't have enough money to try and bring in leisure travelers during the off-season," he said.

Price said the visitors bureau always has provided a breakdown of goals and results to the city. In fact, he believes its marketing and advertising efforts have a direct impact on how much money is collected in the LART fund. Last year, following the Waldo Canyon fire, the visitors bureau launched a "Welcome Back" campaign, which Price said helped the city bounce back from the sales tax losses due to travel cancellations after the fire.

"I believe that the city has the wisdom to see that through the two disasters we have had and now the flooding, we have our work cut out for us," Price said.

Council President Keith King has had the LART fund in his scope from the moment he took office in April. It's one of the few funds council oversees directly. King wants the council to set aside 25 percent of the $4 million LART fund specifically for economic development.

"It's time to change the whole process," he said.

The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance asked for $200,000 to support economic development programs, said Joe Raso, Business Alliance president and CEO. The LART committee is recommending $70,000. Raso said he will go before the council Aug. 27 and make a pitch for the $200,000 - money he said would be used to visit local companies and help resolve issues, visit military commands in other states that have a presence in the region, visit company headquarters that have branch operations in the Springs, and host national site consultants who work with companies looking for new places to expand operations.

"I would be hopeful that the council could see the importance of this and support it," Raso said. "We are looking at the broad-based strategy over multiple years."

A 10-member LART committee, which includes two city council members, has recommended funding for 30 events and organizations. Council is expected to finalize the list, which includes $214,000 of in-kind support from the city, Aug. 27 and then send its recommendations to Mayor Steve Bach for inclusion in the 2014 budget.

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