Winter Park chamber, Veterans Rally part ways
October 20, 2009
The Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce has announced that the town of Winter Park will no longer host the Salute to American Veterans Rally and Festival.
After three years, the event wasn’t generating enough business in town to warrant the expenditure, said chamber President Lance Gutersohn.
“It doesn’t fill restaurants, shops and lodging,” Gutersohn said. “Last year our main lodging sponsor booked 10 rooms out of it. People don’t stay. They’re riding their motorcycles, so they leave.”
The chamber spent $92,500 putting on the 4-day event in August, according to Catherine Ross, executive direct of the chamber. The Town of Fraser also contributed $5,000 to the event.
Based on sales tax revenue for the entire month of August, the chamber decided it wasn’t practical to spend any more than $30,000 on the entire event this year.
“This was a hard decision for everybody,” Ross said. “We love the patriotism and passion of this event. But, our purpose is to generate money and we’re very sorry we couldn’t make it work.”
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Event costs include marketing, overtime for police officers, bands and stages and blocking the roads. The traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall costs $18,000 to bring in, said event coordinator Jim Wear of Pro Promotions, who has been running this event for 23 years.
“Truly this is the bottom-line thing,” Wear said. “The decrease in the budget was so great there was no way we could begin to try to do the event. With a 70-percent budget cut, we wouldn’t even be able to cover the police overtime or the Wall.”
The loss of both a corporate sponsorship from the ski resort and a contribution from the county also hurt the event’s funding, Wear added.
“This was a very conscious, difficult board decision,” Gutersohn said. “There were larger repercussions to having it than to letting it go.”
The event was almost canceled last year, but a decision to discontinue it was reversed after the community voiced its support and a new agreement was negotiated.
Gutersohn noted that August is a popular time of year for tourists in Winter Park and the Veteran’s event kept away much of the regular business.
“The two missions were conflicting,” Wear agreed. “Our mission is to honor vets and to bring military camaraderie and respect to them and to the community. We accomplished that mission all three years we were in Winter Park.”
Unfortunately, Wear added, the event did not fulfill the chamber’s goal of bringing business to the community in any of the three years it was here.
Coordinators estimate that fewer than 5,000 people attended the event this year, as opposed to more than 10,000 that regularly attended when the event was held in Cripple Creek.
“We failed in fulfilling the mission of the chamber and we understand that,” Wear said. “Attendance has been down since we moved (from Cripple Creek). The weather has not been our friend and this event is very much weather dependent.
“The bottom line is that it didn’t grow over time and, at some point, if it’s not working it’s just not working,” he added.
Wear said the hunt is on to find a new location for the festival, likely somewhere more urban where the event can find more corporate sponsorship and where “the community may view the event as having some intrinsic value for what it accomplishes.”
He added that the event will miss the generosity of the people in Winter Park and Fraser.
“We would like to have stayed. The community was very supportive on their part. Everyone that lives up there is just the best,” he said.
The chamber, for its part, will turn its focus to expanding some of its more successful events this year, such as free concerts like Delbert McClinton.
The town plans to do four free concerts next summer, Ross said, which will be co-sponsored by radio stations in Denver and locally.
“People like one-day events,” she said. “They want the extra day to explore the area or play golf.”
Ross said that the free concerts bring the town more bang for the buck because even when weather hurts attendance at the event, the town is promoted through the radio ads.
The chamber is proposing a total budget next year of $1.5 million. It is requesting a municipal contribution of $872,000, which is $12,000 more than the previous year and will help pay for the additional concerts, Ross said.
The rest of the money to fund the new concerts will come from cutting the Veterans’ event and downsizing Fraser River Days, she said.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.