By Caitlin Switzer MONTROSE—(February 6) Scott Beyer can still remember getting his first swat from home room teacher Carol McDermott many years ago. At the Jan. 21 meeting of the Montrose City Council, Beyer probably had occasion to remember that moment—McDermott was among the city councilors who notified Beyer that the City will no longer fund the tourism promotion and retail enhancement activities of the Montrose Association of Commerce & Tourism.
As a past board chair (Eric Feely replaced Beyer as chair last month) and longtime Montrose ACT board member, Beyer expressed frustration at the lack of dialog leading to the momentous decision, but noted that in the end the directional shift may just be a minor setback for Montrose ACT. “In the end, I don’t feel this will affect Montrose ACT,” Beyer said. “We will focus and be the best Chamber we can be. “
Montrose ACT was created in early 2010, to bring together the functions of the former Montrose Chamber of Commerce, Montrose Area Merchants’ Association and Montrose Visitor and Convention Bureau. The loss of funding for tourism promotion means a $400,000 cut, while the retail enhancement funds represent a loss of around $230,000. A statement posted on the city web site explains the city’s rationale for the change with a comment by Mayor Thomas Smits.
“We respect Montrose ACT’s place in the community and fully support its role as a traditional Chamber of Commerce organization,” said Mayor Thomas Smits. “We believe that this change will allow them to focus on their core mission while opening promising new opportunities to promote tourism and commerce in Montrose.” He added, “The City Council is keenly aware of the need to make sure that Retail Sales Enhancement and Tourism Promotion funds are used for their best purposes. We believe that this change will bring greater accountability and more effective use of these important public resources.”
The contract with Montrose ACT has been extended through March 31, as the City and Montrose ACT officials work to ensure a smooth transition. “I feel that we were excellent stewards of the funds,” Beyer said. “Our administrative costs were just 23 percent—which is pretty lean. The city has a right to do what it wants; my frustration came from the lack of dialog.”
Meanwhile, the loss of funding does mean a shift in focus—and the loss of the Montrose ACT’s newest staffer, Kristin Modrell, who has been offered a city job instead.
The Montrose ACT is re-doing its budget, and re-focusing its energies around the Chamber of Commerce, Beyer said. “For our membership, nothing will change,” Beyer said. “Our chamber will be stronger than ever, with better, business-related programming. I try to see the big picture; the loss of funding for specific programming is not that big a deal. The city will still contract visitor services with us; we are a valued first contact point. “We were excited to hire Kristin,” Beyer said, “We hired her to redesign our events programming, to focus on signature events.”
For Montrose ACT Executive Director Jenni Sopsic, the loss of both Modrell and a large slice of organizational funding were serious disappointments. A planned Montrose ACT events summit has been cancelled. However, like Beyer, Sopsic is looking ahead to building a stronger Chamber of Commerce organization. “I was caught off guard,” said Sopsic, who joined Montrose ACT at its inception after serving as Executive Director of the former Convention and Visitors Bureau since 2008. “Every year this contract is on the table, but in the past we have always worked together, through discussions with our executive board and with city staff. When we came to the meeting, we were prepared to continue the discussion between our board and city council.”
Most of the Montrose ACT’s overhead costs have to do with the Chamber of Commerce, she noted, so that every penny of the retail enhancement and tourism promotion funds were being used for those functions. “I feel that we were running a strong operation,” Sopsic said. “We had a big program, and a small but mighty team—very efficient.” Despite the changes, she, her staff and the Montrose ACT board are prepared to build an even stronger chamber of commerce in 2013. “We are always looking ahead,” Sopsic said. “We will re-align our strategic plan, and work with the City. And we will continue to move forward with what we have to work with.”
“I do understand the situation,” Beyer said. “We still have a very good working relationship with the City, and we absolutely will be able to better serve our membership.”