By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE—(February 18, 2014) The newly-created City of Montrose Office of Business and Tourism claimed greater accountability as the reason for seizing the Retail Enhancement ($230,000) and Tourism Promotion funds ($400,000) from the Montrose ACT (which was created by combining the Montrose Area Merchants Association, Chamber of Commerce, and VCB through a City initiative in 2010) early in 2013.
For this issue, the Montrose Mirror reviewed more than 300 pages of expenditures obtained through Public Information Request to see how the City has spent those funds. Here, we look at how much the OBT spent to create its new Downtown Visitor Center. The new VC is located in the heart of town at the Elks Civic Building (107 South Cascade), which was honored with a Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence after an extensive City restoration effort in 2008.
Though City officials initially appeared to favor a yurt visitor center strategically placed in Demoret Park at Main and Townsend, the OBT instead embarked on a renovation of the the Elks Civic Building, a 3,280 square-foot project that kicked off with $15,349.89 in design and product work by Montrose interior designer Michelle Young. Custom woodworking for the project cost $1,452, masonry $967, paint supplies and painting $4,167.
Technology purchases and upgrades for the new Visitor Center amount to just under $60,000, in addition to the $30,000 data analytics software package (not yet implemented) that the OBT purchased through Visit Telluride last year.
Hardware, electrical upgrades and labor ran around $14,500, while signage in various forms and such aesthetic elements as the brass door mount and glass door for the Black Canyon Room cost just under $10,000. Books for the Visitor Center were ordered through Arcadia Publishing at a cost of 813.33, while office supplies totaled roughly $1216.44.
Finally, though Photographer Vince Farnsworth’s wrap of the Black Canyon is perhaps the single most stunning element in the Visitor Center, it is also among the most affordable purchases at just $500.
According to City Tourism and Retail Enhancement Coordinator Jennifer Loshaw, a total of 272 tourists visited the Center between Aug. and Dec. of 2013.
For those whose living depends on bringing visitors to town, the lack of activity or successful events over the past year makes the new Visitor Center less practical than it might be if there were more reasons for visitors to come to town.
“It has just been a huge spending spree,” Western Motel owner Jolanta Ogrodny said. “They have the money, but there is no accountability. How about spending some of that money to build a water slide for kids near the new kayak park? We need something to do here—I am hanging on by the skin of my teeth.”
Jody Holland of Affordable Inns, who owns hotels both in Montrose and Grand Junction, believes that successful events, rather than lavish spending, will fill beds and make cash registers ring. She is currently floating the idea of a 2015 Montrose Food Truck Convention, to bring vendors and excitement to town.
“We need to remember that no events are self-sustaining,” Holland said. “It takes money to make money. If we don’t spend our money to bring people here, they won’t come here.
“Where is our heritage days, our garlic cookout, our fiesta? Where is our party? Events that draw 30 or 40 people to a meeting are not enough—we want thousands.
“We have a huge opportunity to embrace successful events like Nightvision and Sweet Corn,” she continued.
“How blessed we have been not to have to deal with the parking and traffic…Olathe has done all the work, and we have reaped the business.
“Every town has a story, and every town has river or a mountain,” Holland said. “We have to step back, think about what makes Montrose unique, and create something. Even Baggs, Wyoming has an annual pig chase—kids get muddy chasing pigs, and whoever gets a pig wins it. It’s a blast!
“Until we are willing to dare to be different, we won’t bring people here…and people are what I need.”
Commented Scott Beyer of Scott’s Printing, who was serving as president of the Montrose Act when the City seized the retail enhancement and tourism promotion funds, “Are they more transparent, more accountable than we were?” Beyer asked. “The answer is no.”
By Caitlin Switzer