Veterans Rally Clashes With Federal Budget Cuts

images copy

by Rick Langenberg:

 

Non-gaming business owners upset over event set-up

Next month’s 21st annual Salute to American Veterans Rally in Cripple Creek will feature plenty of participants and spectators, biker pageantry and patriotic ceremonies, but it won’t showcase any military tributes from Fort Carson or the Air force, unless the city or the event promoters want to foot the bill. And once again, the several day festival (scheduled from Aug. 16-18) is receiving a less than favorable response from some local business owners, who wonder if they should just shut down for a week in August.

Regardless, one of the city’s more well-attended and colorful events could get muted, when it comes to military bands, flyovers and speeches by active-duty officers.

That scenario was made clear last week by head festival promoter Jim Wear, president of Pro Promotions. According to Wear, the festival, along with other civilian tributes, has become a victim of the controversial budget sequestration action, which followed an ensuing several year fiscal duel between Congress and the White House. Due to the fact that a number of budget cuts were not agreed on late last year, significant fiscal reductions totaling $85.4 billion automatically occurred in 2013, a process referred to as sequestration, with many defense and military related programs getting placed on the slicing block. Non-discretionary defense spending was reduced by nearly 8 percent for 2013, as part of the sequestration situation. For example, this process ended White House tours and even briefly created huge delays at airports due to cutbacks in air traffic controllers.

Some local congressional leaders, such as Doug Lamborn, have cried foul and accused the Obama administration of cutting popular public programs to get back at Congress for not endorsing his spending pursuits. Another unknown area of reductions dealt with military participation at civilian ceremonies, such as the Salute to American Veterans Rally. Wear cautiously unveiled the bad news to city leaders at the July 17 council meeting. “We won’t have much of a military presence ,” admitted Wear. “They aren’t being allowed to come.” He was referring to some of the previous military marching bands and ceremonies, sponsored by key military institutions in the Pike Peak region. Unless officers want to come on their own time and pay their way, the event won’t have a strong military flavor. According to Wear and city officials, these ceremonies aren’t getting supported by the military due to budget cutbacks. “They (the White House administration) want to do ‘see and feel’ cuts,” said Wear, in expressing the political realities of the situation.

Wear said some behind the scenes work is underway to keep alive certain ceremonies, such as the North American Aerospace Defense Command-U.S. Northern Command joint service color guard He indicated that private funding is being explored for some of the glitzy military ceremonies that attracted much attention in the past.

Still, the Salute promoter expressed much optimism about next month’s event. He expects the festival will receive a considerable amount of regional media coverage with the official designation of Hwy. 67 between Divide and Cripple Creek as the POW/MIA Memorial Highway. “It’s a pretty big deal,” said Wear, in describing the nomination and a state joint resolution that makes the road designation official.

However, several Cripple Creek city leaders expressed outrage over the actions of the federal government to cut off funding for patriotic events like the Salute to American Veterans Rally. “This is a slap in the face,” said Councilman Terry Wahrer. “That is a shame we are not going to have this.”

Wahrer, a military plane buff himself who attends many air shows, cited the cost of these types of flyovers and related ceremonies as extremely minimal. Other council members also didn’t appear happy with a limited military presence regarding a popular event that pays tribute to both active-duty members of the armed forces and former veterans.

They didn’t get any arguments from Wear.

Local business owners worried about vendor set-up

However, a few local business operators challenged Wear on the way the event is being organized this year. They took to the podium last week to convey a familiar concern: the veterans and biker rally is stifling local commerce, especially for shops run by non-gaming operators. Local business owner Tim Braun told the council that a petition has been filed by a group of business owners, located on the north side of Bennett Avenue in the 300 block. With the vendor set-up proposed by Wear, they indicated they might as well shut down for the week. “You might as well close down for four days,” said Braun. He expressed big concerns that all the festival traffic would occur on the opposite side of the highway, where the vendors are located, resulting in zero activity for many shops and limited access. He suggested a change in the vendor set-up, or at least considering an alternative spot for locating some of these booths.

Braun said he realized it was probably too late to make changes for this year. But he noted that he tried to initiate changes in the event set-up, starting last November. Another local business operator, Lou Goldman, who cited a huge reduction in business at his chocolate shop during the 2012 veterans’ festival and biker rally, questioned why the main street is shut down as early as Thursday morning (one day prior to the event kick-off). He said this negatively impacted their sales for the week.

He said Wear should make good with his pledge to offer free vendor booths for businesses located on the north side of the highway. The event promoter said he is trying to balance the needs of vendors and local business operators. He expressed concerns over diminishing vendor activity due to the economy. “We are fighting to fill what we have,” said Wear. The Pro Promotions president also admitted that no matter what action the promoters take, not everyone will be happy with the event.

The council encouraged Wear and the non-gaming merchants to try to iron out their differences, but declined to take any action. In other action, the city council signed off on a $359,000 funding grant from the feds that will pave the way for sidewalks and a trail system along Teller One, between the post office and the grocery store. It is part of major highway enhancement project that also will include a major redesign of part of the road.

Also, the city council endorsed another $160,000-plus design contract for the Bennett Avenue makeover project, expected to occur next year. A public meeting regarding this project, which will result in a more pedestrian-oriented feel, will occur early next month.