Many options come out at Visitor Center meeting

Funding background

The Chamber has balanced its budget at this point, but at the cost of the Visitor Center, Currie said.

The balanced budget operates a Visitor Center with staffing at its current levels, which means a situation that was not suitable for tourist demand will be worse next year when demand increases, Currie said.

The extra $15,000 would provide the Visitor Center with a full-time general information specialist that could answer phones, send out mailings and work with walk-ins for the Visitor Center.

Right now, that position is part-time.

Ideally, another $12,000 would pay for more hours for the sportsmen's information specialist.

The sportsmen's information specialist position works 16 hours each week for most of the year and full-time in the hunting season. That position was cut in 2005 from 20 hours each week in the off-season to its current hours because of funding, Currie said.

The Chamber feels the sportsmen's position is matter for the government wildlife agencies that help fund the Visitor Center - such as the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Division of Wildlife - and not the assembled groups from Craig.

The threat of the Visitor Center closing is not changing the message from the DOW, Currie said.

The DOW "have invested in a service center in Meeker and a service center in Steamboat, and they have field people here," Currie said. "If the Visitor Center closed here, they would be fine with that."

— There was a Moffat County Tourism Association board member who said MCTA might have additional money for the Moffat County Visitor Center.

There was a Craig Chamber of Commerce member who said the Chamber should use his dues for the Visitor Center.

Craig's mayor said the city could vote to have its own lodging tax, repeal the county tax and designate where tourism dollars are spent.

Frank Moe - a Chamber member, MCTA board member and Best Western owner - asked the Chamber to hold a meeting Wednesday night where rank-and-file Chamber members could weigh in on the Visitor Center funding debate. Prior to the meeting, Moe wrote a check for $500 to the Chamber from Best Western to support the Visitor Center until long-term funding can be found. At the meeting, he encouraged others do the same.

The opinions were mixed.

The Visitor Center is housed in the Chamber building, and although Chamber officials say the group is "happy to provide that," the cost of subsidizing the Visitor Center is becoming too much for the Chamber's budget to bear.

Chamber Executive Director Christina Currie estimates the Chamber possibly faces a $15,000 deficit because of staffing issues.

Personnel is the Visitor Center's biggest cost, and also its most important, Currie said. The audience at Wednesday's meeting, no matter which organization they affiliated themselves with, agreed.

The Visitor Center "is the local selling of tourism in Craig," said Scott Cook, Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership board chairman. "Brochures and pamphlets are great, but people are what sell things, not brochures and pamphlets."

Those at the meeting did not reach a consensus on funding, but there were many options thrown on the table.

Recently appointed Moffat County Tourism Association John Ponikvar said the MCTA might find money for the Moffat County Visitor Center in its budget.

"When I look at $40,000 dedicated to tourism, and the board doesn't know yet what that money is going to be spent on, maybe it can come from there," Ponikvar said. "If it's going to take another $12,000 to $15,000 to go to the Visitor Center, I think the money is there."

Ponikvar also said the MCTA is budgeting $45,000 for staffing.

Chamber member Jim Stoddard, who owns PackCenter, said the Visitor Center was the most important thing the Craig Chamber of Commerce could do for him.

His dues could pay for that in the event the Chamber can't afford Visitor Center operations, he added.

"The most important thing to me is to have a human person there," Stoddard said.

Craig Mayor Don Jones suggested the city institute its own lodging tax, and repeal the county lodging tax inside city limits. Then, the city could determine how lodging tax revenue was spent and put it toward the Visitor Center.

"As a city, we need that Visitor Center right where it's at," Jones said. "When I go to a new town, the first place I go is to the Chamber."

Chamber board president Gene Bilodeau said he wanted to make it clear the Chamber is not set on closing the Visitor Center without additional funding.

"We've had some people on the (Chamber) board say, 'Let's close the Visitor Center,'" Bilodeau said. "To me, that's totally idiotic."

After the meeting, Bilodeau felt more confident a solution could be reached.

"I'm saying this as an individual, not as the Chamber board president, the Visitor Center is not going to close," he said. "There's enough of us that are hard-headed enough, we're going to make it work."

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