Chamber short on cash

Summer marketing discussed with City Council

— In order to stabilize and advance its summer marketing program, the chamber needs more money, chamber representatives said to the City Council Tuesday night.

Whether that means the city should fork over more cash or the chamber should consider bringing forward a tax proposal to finance its endeavors was not decided, though a number of ideas were circulated at the joint meeting.

City Council members asserted they all support the "former vendor's fee" now given to the chamber to market the community during the summer.

The city's controversial allocation to the Chamber Resort Association has decreased in recent years and the chamber is now asking for a reversal of that trend.

This year, the city allocated about $478,000 to the chamber specifically for summer marketing ventures, down from $570,000 in 2001. The city approved cuts to virtually every item in its community support budget, many of them more drastic than the cut to the chamber allocation.

Still, chamber Executive Director Sandy Evans-Hall said the cut was damaging. The chamber has had to cut back on marketing efforts this year and now needs a better sense of how it can stabilize marketing in the future.

As cities in Colorado, not to mention the state government, have decreased spending on marketing, they have seen a decrease in tourists, dropping Colorado from the No. 1 destination tourism state to number 11 from 1993 to 1997, chamber Marketing Director Kim Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, Steamboat and other ski towns have seen summer tourism revenue become a much larger part of their economies. In 1985, the first year the city gave the chamber money from the vendor's fee, summer business generated 30 percent of the city's local revenue. In 2000, the summer accounted for a full 42 percent of the revenue generated locally, Mitchell said.

But all that is now in jeopardy, Mitchell said.

The chamber has had to rely on marketing higher-impact events to use its reduced marketing funds as efficiently as possible, Evans-Hall said. It has had to reduce marketing for group events, such as conventions, which are important to local businesses and may have less impact on the community than bigger events. The chamber is also cutting back on efforts to market nationally.

"It's just too expensive to reach those people," Evans-Hall said.

Some council members agreed that something needs to be done soon about increasing chamber funding, while others were somewhat skeptical.

"I think the city has a responsibility to help provide for a viable economic base," said Councilman Bud Romberg, who wants to sign a contract with the chamber to deal with how much the city will give the organization and what it will do with the money.

The members of the council, instead of promising a larger direct allocation to the chamber, may ask the chamber to come up with a proposal to take to the voters for a tax increase to set aside for chamber ventures. One proposal that was discussed Tuesday by Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner and Council President Pro Tem Paul Strong was to increase the 1 percent accommodations tax by a small amount to finance some chamber marketing ventures. The accommodations tax, charged on lodging, currently pays for tourist amenities such as the city-owned Haymaker golf course.

But Council President Kathy Connell was not so sure an increase in the accommodations tax was the most prudent move the city could make.

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