The Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding for special community activities and events that will boost tourism, with one councilman pushing for greater funding focus on outdoor recreation.
The council voted 8-1 to appropriate $710,460 in supplemental funds to its Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax fund to finance 19 additional projects this year, such as the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade, that attract overnight visitors, enhance the visitors' experience and engage the community, according to meeting documents.
In the same vote, the council approved transferring $250,000 from the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax fund to the city's Capital Improvements Program fund so parks and recreation staff can complete improvements at North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
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"These dollars are used to really support the attraction of visitors and economic development, and we have the flexibility to attend to the important needs of those parks that so many of our tourists do visit, so I appreciate that," Councilwoman Nancy Henjum said.
Councilman David Leinweber, owner of Angler's Covey and founder of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance that collaborates with community partners to strengthen the local outdoor recreation industry, said the city's Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax, largely paid by tourists, should focus more on funding outdoor recreation to increase tourism.
Leinweber was the sole vote against approving the additional funds on Tuesday.
"I think balloon festivals are great, fireworks are great, but are they really driving economic impact for our city, and is it really fulfilling the charter of what (the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax) is to do, which is … to bring economic impact?" he said. "... I am deeply, deeply focused on the fact that we recognize that outdoor recreation is usually in the top or second key factor of why people come to this town, yet (the tax) often does not focus on it."
Councilman Dave Donelson said events like the annual Labor Day Lift Off hot air balloon festival in Colorado Springs do generate big dollars for the city, to the tune of $9.4 million.
Statistics from Longwoods International, a destination tourism market research firm based in Toronto, showed that in 2021 more than 14.7 million visitors to the Pikes Peak region participated in outdoor activity during their trip, said Becky Leinweber, executive director of the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance and David Leinweber's wife. Two-thirds of visitors stayed overnight and 59% of them came for day trips, she said.
Enjoying outdoor activities is the No. 3 reason people visit the area, she told the council, behind visiting friends and family and touring the region — the No. 1 and No. 2 reasons for their visits, respectively.
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Outdoor activity accounts for more tourist stays than cultural, sporting and business activities and events in Colorado Springs, Becky Leinweber said. Each of those sectors has a "dedicated and sustainable commitment from the city through (Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax) contracts," while the outdoor sector doesn't, she said.
"I believe this structure needs to be re-evaluated," she said.
Henjum cautioned about marketing Colorado Springs' outdoors so much that the city wouldn't be able to handle a significant influx of tourists.
"I don't know exactly what the solution is, but I do think this is a conversation worth having," Henjum said.
Leinweber said the key is "spreading out that outdoor recreation" so it doesn't negatively impact the environment and protects city resources.
"Now is the time for leadership to really look at how do we invest in this so that our citizens and our visitors find Colorado Springs a great place to come and be, and enjoy the outdoor spaces?" he said.
PK McPherson, chairwoman of the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax Citizens Advisory Committee and executive director of Pikes Peak Region Attractions, said the committee is "very supportive of outdoor recreation," but can only fund events and activities brought before the body through Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax applications.
The committee in the past has supported applications from organizations like the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance and Friends of Barr Trail, she said.
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David Leinweber said the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance has tried to engage in a contractual agreement with the city through the Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax, like those it has with VisitCOS, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation, but has been denied.
"If outdoor recreation is truly valuable to us, why wouldn't we support a similar organization ... that represents the outdoor recreation? ... I think we need to rethink how we look at outdoor recreation and it should be pulled out and highlighted," he said.
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