Hard to believe it actually happened, but 17 assorted Colorado Springs civic leaders piled into a bus Monday morning for an all-day trip — to Trinidad. Some weren’t totally sure of the purpose, just that it had to do with tourism and they had been asked to participate.
Along the way, the Gray Line bus picked up a handful more influential folks in Pueblo. After reaching the destination, everyone eventually learned they would be joining with Trinidad leaders over a lunch for what was called the Southern Colorado I-25 Eco-Development Summit.
The organizers were led by three men from here but known in all three cities: Jay Cimino, Phil Long Dealerships owner/CEO; Chuck Murphy, president of Murphy Constructors; and Lou Mellini, general manager of radio stations KILO 94.3 and RXP 103.9.
They and others shared a concept of Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Trinidad forming a tourism partnership with a singular goal — persuading more Interstate 25 travelers to exit the freeway and visit each city.
The number of people (drivers and passengers, not cars) passing through on I-25 each year provides the sole motivation: 4 million in Trinidad, more than 20 million in Pueblo and Colorado Springs. With a “narrow, targeted marketing strategy,” Mellini added, “we can bring in more of those cars off the interstate. And the exits are our opportunity to capture and harvest those tourists.”
They talked about better signage and billboards along I-25. They mentioned developing simple but effective mobile apps. And they shared the idea of focusing on 10 total exits as gateways to tourist magnets in the three cities.
For Colorado Springs and Pueblo, those attractions are obvious and well-known. Trinidad and its region have some that would require more promotion, such as the Santa Fe Trail, the Ludlow Massacre Memorial and the Mount Carmel Center, a former Catholic church redeveloped by Trinidad native Cimino and his family for health, wellness and community purposes.
Trinidad is working on another idea, La Puerta de Colorado (puerta meaning door), a combined car museum, baseball-themed restaurant/brewery focused on Hall of Famer Rick “Goose” Gossage, plus a theater and outdoor activities. La Puerta de Colorado, as the group saw, is a developing concept probably five or more years from reality.
But everything else about the proposed Southern Colorado alliance could happen quickly.
As the presenters continued, more good ideas came forth. City Councilor Merv Bennett, representing Mayor Steve Bach, pledged Colorado Springs’ support and even suggested changing the name of our airport to the Southern Colorado Regional Airport. Cimino talked eloquently about how “we’ve never really branded Southern Colorado … so why don’t we rebrand ourselves?”
Indeed, why not? That initial group will reconvene sometime this summer, but here’s an idea: Pull together a cluster of loyal, creative (and young) marketing professionals from the three cities, put them in a room for a half-day to brainstorm, and we might quickly have multiple options of a catchy name for our region, complete with slogans for use on those I-25 signs, the mobile app and at those exits.
It’s also a positive way to unite our part of the state, and it felt encouraging to have such a friendly exchange among the three cities. Let’s hope it leads to much more.