LART makes us look less friendly

As you already might have seen in this issue, Business Journal columnist John Hazlehurst takes the Colorado Springs city government to task for its treatment of nonprofit events seeking Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax funding.

As a direct result of City Council forcing event organizers to provide justification proving economic impact, and making that a requirement for renewing grants from LART monies, the Colorado Balloon Classic has announced plans to move away from Colorado Springs in 2015.

Hazlehurst makes strong points, and we feel compelled to underscore them here.

We don’t have many events that have lasted continuously since the 1970s. The Balloon Classic, a staple of Labor Day weekend for going on four decades, has brought enjoyment and memories to untold thousands — without charging a cent for admission.

But in the past year or so, the Balloon Classic has become caught in the middle of a damaging power struggle.

On one end, a group of new City Council members has taken it upon themselves to clamp down on regular recipients of the LART revenues. On the other end, major entities such as the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau have seen their percentage of the LART pie reduced, with a similar squeeze put on the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

The end result is turning what should be allies into adversaries.

So with the CVB and the Business Alliance having to fight for maintaining their own share of city funding, the end result is turning what should be allies into adversaries.

Not only that, but when the city reacted so quickly last week in putting up a statement on its website clearly intended to chastise the Balloon Classic for its decision, that came off as a case of sour grapes.

Certainly, it made the task even more difficult for other community leaders who already have been trying to reach out to the Balloon Classic’s longtime president and CEO, Patsy Buchwald, in hopes of persuading her to reconsider.

We feel strongly, as Hazlehurst outlined in his column, that the idea of making life more difficult for LART beneficiaries is counterproductive. More than that, it’s yet another case of some city leaders saying out of one side of their mouth that they’re doing all in their power to make Colorado Springs more business-friendly, but from the other side of their mouth they’re actually promoting the opposite.

Let’s look at this a different way: How many cities, regardless of size, can claim to have an annual large festival attracting hot-air balloons from near and far? And how is that any less valuable to our city and region than having the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, the Presidents Day Hockey Tournament and other LART-supported events on our calendar each year?

In this case, we have a nice tool in LART money to help low-budget events as well as the main entities that promote local tourism and events. And that’s with a LART tax far less than almost any other city with a legitimate tourism interest.

If anything, we should be thinking about a slight increase to LART, which visitors would never notice, to help our region even more.