Venues need updating.
Venues are scattered.
Event volunteers and organizers are experiencing burnout.
Events are organized around holidays when lodging is already filled and businesses are busy.
The town needs better gateway markers and signs to identify the historic downtown and develop transportation links between event venues and downtown. There is a lack of communication among event planners. The town has insufficient structure in place for event approval, facilitation, involvement and permitting.
These were the challenges identified by the Community Revitalization Partnership (CRP) Team in a presentation June 9 to a small group of town staff, citizens, the Chamber of Commerce and local event planners.
CRP is a partnership involving the Colorado Community Revitalization Association (CCRA) and the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). The town and Chamber of Commerce applied for a DOLA grant to help the community develop a strategic work plan for improving the economic viability of existing special events in Pagosa Springs, as well as a strategy for developing a support network for new events. The Pagosa team included Barbara Silverman from CCRA, Sophie Faust from the Office of Smart Growth, Amanda Miller and Peggy Lyle, both from the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association.
CRP findings were straightforward: The Chamber of Commerce will continue to serve as a mechanism of communication until the town can fund an event or cultural coordinator position. CRP recommended improving the marketing and communication tools including e-mail, Web site and an event calendar; better communication with local businesses about upcoming events and quarterly meetings between the town, Chamber and event planners.
The team suggested the town needs to develop guidelines and requirements including permits for risk management and insurance, parking and traffic, event layout, public safety (including police and EMTs), liquor, waste management, and traffic safety. The Pagosa Springs Parks and Recreation Department should be responsible for keeping a master calendar, implementing usage fees, identifying venues and meeting staff needs. Structurally, the municipality must address the collection and tracking of vendor sales tax revenue and event-related transportation solutions.
“I think [the CRP recommendations] are not unreasonable and I don’t think that anyone should be surprised by them,” said Julie Jessen, special projects manager for the town. “They came in and gave us a good perspective from outside the box. Our community is quite transparent. We are not complicated or hard to figure out.”
“I think they put a lot of thought into it,” said Mary Jo Coulehan, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “Their recommendations ran very parallel to what Linda Hill and Company (the consultant helping create a marketing plan for the Chamber) recommended. Identify what we have and create an infrastructure to support some of our current events and analyze what we need to keep as a community event and what potentially we need to make bigger and better. It’s the direction the chamber is already moving in and where we are trying to help the community to the best of our ability.”
Coulehan explained that the Chamber of Commerce is trying to become a clearinghouse from a publicity standpoint to let the community know what is happening. They are working to revamp their Web site, highlight events and develop their calendar of events more fully. They also want to create specials and packages for visitors to the area that provide tickets, lodging and special offers from local restaurants and retailers. Coulehan is also trying to expand WinterFest.
“I’m trying to create a weekend that is not weather contingent, or totally balloon contingent,” she said. “I’d like to have a winter triathlon and a snowmobile rodeo, and I’m working on getting groups involved that do that. In essence, I become an event coordinator.”
Event coordination is the big question that Crista Munro, executive director of the Four Corners Folk Festival, was hoping CRP would address. “I don’t think our community is facing a lack of ideas,” Munro said, “our problem is making them happen.”
Munro was hoping the CRP would make recommendations for creating an Office of Cultural Affairs or an event planning position within the municipality that could be partially funded by an increase in the lodging tax.
“The Chamber does enough,” she said. “They are fulfilling their capacity. Is asking them to take on another role the highest and best use of their time? If these things need to be done, then there needs to be a staffing recommendation for at least a part-time employee.”
Jessen had a different view. “I think event coordination is a great idea,” she said. “Mercy Korsgren, at the community center, is working on event coordination and how the community center can fill the gaps. I know we are looking at the Chamber to fill that gap, but maybe we have Mercy continue to do this. She is already doing this.”
Munro’s argument about the best use of time applies to Korsgren as well.
“The money is here,” Munro suggested. “Money will perpetuate more money. We have to make an investment. When you have an atmosphere in town where you have special events regularly, it helps a town become known.”
Jessen agreed with Munro. “I think that special events are definitely one catalyst that brings tourists to small towns. I go to other small towns because of events. They give a flavor of what the town is like.”
However, Jessen believes some of the challenges identified by CRP will be difficult to overcome, particularly the venues. “The fairgrounds are run down. It will take money to repair them and I don’t think that people realize the necessity of updating the venues. An amphitheater at Reservoir Hill would increase the use up there and still keep it a natural area.” Yet Jessen pointed out the town is still subsidizing the community center. “The more the community center is used, the less taxpayer money has to be used to subsidize.” Jessen believes it’s a marketing issue and that usage fees for the Community Center are comparable to other communities.
When asked about the idea of creating a municipal position for an event planner, Jessen was supportive. “It goes back to funding. I think it would be nice, but first we have to have a semi-organized coalition of event coordinators, event planners, businesses and the community. I don’t think it’s a full-time position at first, but it is something that would make life easier. There are creative ways to figure out those types of positions.”
Munro believes an Office of Cultural Affairs could be the umbrella organization under which all events and festivals fall, instead of each event creating a different non-profit corporation and waiting three years to apply for grant funds, as is typically required. Munro pointed out those non-paid volunteers who work a full-time job and then try to build an event from scratch in their spare time run most events in Pagosa, leading to the burnout identified by the CRP Team.
Coulehan said she could support the idea of an event coordinator in the future. “I think right now it’s a little too soon. I think we need to look at what we have and where we think an event coordinator can really help us. I do think that would work well for us.”
Another critical issue is sales tax collection. “We currently have no way to know if a vendor is paying their share of taxes,” Jessen said. “In other communities, when they control the collection of sales tax, they see a ten to twenty percent increase in sales tax funds. Is there leakage? We don’t know. Right now it is confidential information that the town and county get from the department of revenue at the state level.”
The first step to identifying and controlling the leakage is to establish business licensing. “We are looking at business l
icensing in the future,” Jessen said. “That will lead to tracking the viability of our businesses. What we have, where is our leakage and then in a couple of years going to sales tax collection.”
The final report on the Pagosa Springs Community Revitalization Partnership Team Visit will be available in July and accessible via the Town Web site: http://www.townofpagosa springs.com.