City Manager Bill Bell discussed tourism promotion efforts at Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli last month. Image courtesy Cara Fandel for Howling Wolf Photography.

By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE—(March 2) When the City of Montrose announced in January that it would be withholding the tourism promotion and retail enhancement funds that had previously been administered through the Montrose Association of Commerce & Tourism, the news caught many locals off guard; after all, it was the City of Montrose that had helped to facilitate creation of Montrose ACT in a consolidation of the former Montrose Chamber of Commerce, Montrose Visitors Bureau and Montrose Area Merchants Association in 2010.

Since the announcement was made at the Jan. 21 Montrose City Council meeting, city staff have met with individuals, businesses and community groups to determine how best to use the funds, which total roughly $630,000 ($400,000 in tourism promotion funds and $230,000 in retail enhancement funds). A community meeting held on March 11, entitled the Montrose Tourism and Business Enhancement Focus Group event, drew a healthy crowd to the Montrose Pavilion for industry-specific discussions and breakout focus groups.

As the city continues to explore the possibilities, which include handling its own tourism promotion efforts in-house, creating its own visitor guide, and perhaps establishing a yurt “visitor center” in Demoret Park, community members have been eager to join the discussion and offer ideas of their own. Among those who have taken part in and followed the discussions closely is hotel owner Jodi Holland of Affordable Inn (1480 South Townsend).

“I think, in general, that the decision to separate from the Montrose ACT was long overdue, for numerous reasons,” Holland said. “(Montrose City Manager) Bill Bell did an amazing job when he came here, and did not change anything at all for the first year–he wanted to see what was broken before making any changes. And I am also grateful for the opportunity; the city is reaching out now to get ideas from the lodging industry. It was encouraging to see that they wanted input, and have asked us to share ideas and brainstorm.”

Holland says that she feels optimistic about the direction the City is taking with regard to tourism promotion and retail enhancement.

“I think what they are saying is what they are going to do,” she said. “With the right people and community support, we can achieve success. I am grateful to be part of the change, and I hope that this gives some tools to our community that we can really use. We all need things to get better—none of us want them to get any worse! And not one business in Montrose is expendable; perhaps this plan will help give them longevity and economic survival.”

Longtime local business owner Jim Elder of ElderAdo Financial (1100 South Townsend) shares Holland’s sense of optimism.

“I am excited about the new people involved,” Elder said. “I thought Jenni (Montrose ACT Executive Director Jenni Sopsic) was doing a good job—but the city is bringing in a whole team. I like Bill Bell, and I think Rob Joseph has the business experience to organize and put things together. Kristin Modrell is excellent with outreach and PR, and they have a good IT guy too. Combined, they make a very good team.”

Elder said he attended a recent city presentation at Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, and liked the ideas that he heard. One improvement that he feels would keep Montrose from being “dead in the water” would be faster, more reliable Internet service.

“We need something,” he said. “And high-speed Internet encourages white collar jobs—let’s bring in a few thousand of those! They provide more income, and they are non-polluting.”

Although he is perhaps best known for his public  support of education and innovative ideas, Montrose resident and philanthropist Jim Branscome believes that at least part of Montrose’s economy should continue to focus on what has always drawn visitors to the region—hunting and outdoor recreation. Although he based his career in New York City, Branscome and his family have had ties to Montrose since 1980.

“In the 1980’s, when we came here during hunting season the hotels here were always full,” he said. “Almost all of the ranches would take reservations. Hunting is one of the things Montrose is most known for around the world—when we travel, it is one of the subjects people mention most often when they learn where we are from.

“The other subject is Telluride.”

Appealing to hunting and fishing enthusiasts is still important, he said, and is part of a strategy Branscome calls “micro-targeting.”

“Colorado has raised its license fee, and hunting is in decline,” Branscome said. “But people still come here from all over the world. When I go to WalMart in the fall, I see license plates from all over—we need to learn to cherish what we already have, and micro-target these guys.”

Micro-targeting involves more intensified promotion at a micro-level, Branscome said.

“I think we need to do more micro-targeting of people who could potentially move here,” he said, noting that the social mobility phenomenon that helped drive the economy in recent decades took a severe hit during the economic downturn.

“The (Welcome Home Montrose) Wounded Warrior program is awesome, and may help us to move forward with a whitewater park here,” Branscome said. “Another target population could be application developers—Verizon will be rolling out 4G here shortly; all they have to do is flip a switch. It will be amazing for folks with smart phones, because you can tether to other devices. There is no reason application developers can’t live here, and enjoy what we all enjoy.

“We should be targeting them the same way that the hospital attracts people,” he said, “by advertising  the things that God, Teddy Roosevelt and Wayne Aspinall gave us.

“You can ski, kayak and snowshoe here—and the air service is excellent,” he said. “I have commuted for seven years between Montrose and New York.”

The development of 3D printing has also opened doors of opportunity, he said.

“You can produce prototypes, one at a time,” he explained, “everything from car parts to medical devices. Forty years ago, if you had an idea you had to draw it, and take it to an industrial firm to produce a prototype, and then you had to find a manufacturer. With 3D printers, all of the middle steps are eliminated—and they are available now for $1,800 to $5,000.”

A first-rate K-12 education system is also important when it comes to appealing to young professionals, Branscome said, adding that Montrose County Schools should be equipped with the updated technology that students need to achieve success.