The Salute to American Veterans and biker rally, considered one of the most popular events in Cripple Creek and southern Teller, is once again facing an uncertain future.
Unless a compromise is reached, the rally and the tens of thousands of motorcycle riders who participate every summer, may be headed out of town.
Last week, a proposed 60 percent cut in the city of Cripple Creek’s financial sponsorship of the several day festival, sparked a near standing-room-only crowd at a budget hearing regarding the town’s marketing and special events fiscal blueprint for 2017. Many leaders of veteran-based organizations voiced extreme opposition to the city’s plans, citing the rally as a great tribute to military veterans across the country, and an event that puts Cripple Creek on the map.
City officials didn’t disagree, but noted that ‘business is business,’ and they can’t afford to foot the bill for $50,000-plus for an event that actually produces negative revenue for casinos and local businesses. City officials are proposing a $20,000 contribution in their sponsorship level for next year, a $30,000 reduction from 2016.
“We don’t have that much money,” warned Steve Kitzman, the city’s marketing and special events director, in describing Cripple Creek’s fiscal situation with a record low number of gaming betting devices, the prime revenue source for city operations.
“It is a significant time commitment. The event means a whole lot to a whole lot of people. This is not a personal attack,” added the marketing director, who noted that he comes from a strong pro-military family
“I take it personally,” replied Taz Blevins, a key member of the Salute to American Veterans Rally committee for years, in response to the city’s budget plan for drastically reducing its funding of the rally. “If we leave Cripple Creek again, we will not come back.”
Blevins was referring to a previous exit of the rally in Cripple Creek for several years, when the event was hosted by Winter Park following an earlier rift between rally promoters, headed by ProPromotions, and a previous city administration.
“That would be devastating,” said Ray McPeek, co-chairman of the Salute to American Veterans Rally Committee, and leader of a national special forces motorcycle club, in describing the proposed reductions in event funding from the city.
In fact,, McPeek suggested an increase in overall funding. “We want to make the rally better and increase in support. We want to move forward and not backward. It is our hope no monetary support is taken away.”
More importantly, the committee co-chairman cited the significance of the rally, which has gained a distinction as the most prominent veterans’ procession in the state. “It is unmatched. It is second to none,” added McPeek.
The group’s leader didn’t get any arguments from a large crowd of rally supporters, consisting of many representatives of veterans’ organizations. They touted the rally as a great tribute to active duty members of the armed forces and former veterans. They also praised the rally as a signature event for Cripple Creek.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner also got into the pro-rally tribute and heavily criticized Kitzman’s proposed budget cut for one of the most popular events. “I find this insulting,” said Zoellner, who criticized the marketing chief for a lack of communications. “I feel we were let down.”
According to Zoellner, if the city had limited funds for city-sponsored events, then it would have been better to have an across-the-board reduction in the funding for local festivals. “I love this event. It put us on the map,” said the mayor pro tem.
However, in his earlier statements, the marketing director made it clear he wanted to keep the Salute to American Veterans Rally event. “I don’t want it to go away,” said Kitzman. He compared the city’s situation to a corporate sponsor that didn’t have as much money to spend as previous years.
Kitzman’s approach to the cuts also got a plug by other council members. Councilman Chris Hazlett, who owns Ralf’s Breakroom, conceded that his business probably reaps more benefits than other establishments from the rally. That said, he indicated some big perception problems with the event. “We get a lot of negative feedback,” admitted Hazlett. “We get a lot of people who have negative feelings about the way it is going. We are spending their (the citizens of Cripple Creek) money for something they don’t like.”
Several retail shop owners described the rally as virtually a business-killer. “We die that week,” said business owner Tim Braun, who runs a shop on the 300 block of Bennett Avenue with his wife Anita.
“It is a motorcycle rally as far as we are concerned,” said resident and business owner Jack Maberry. Other business operators stated that they experience a 20 to 25 percent decline in business activity that week, a situation compounded by road closures. “That week is a killer,” stated Bill Burcaw, owner of the 9494 Gifts with Altitude store.
Other complaints hinged on the staleness of the rally over the last few years. “it is becoming a one-day event,” noted Mayor Bruce Brown.
However, McPeek vowed to change that scenario with a fresher approach next year. He stated that the committee wants to add fireworks and concerts to the future rally lineup
Where is the money going?
In playing the role as the middle-man in trying to craft a compromise, Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray DuBois stated that one of the main controversial rally issues deals with the fact that the city is handing over close to $50,000 to a private, for-profit organization with ProPromotions. “We want to make sure they have a need for the money,” said DuBois. “We don’t have a clue what the revenue (for the rally) is. There has to be shown a need.”
According to DuBois, the city has a much different arrangement with ProPromotions, compared to other non-profits for special events. In most cases, he said the town government has more oversight over how the money is spent for orchestrating a several-day festival.
In past years, this issue has emerged as one of the main gripes local residents and business owners have had with the rally organizers. It played a big role in the actions of a previous administration to part ways with ProPromotions . According to chamber of commerce leaders in Winter Park, the lack of a return on their funding investment is why the rally got the fiscal boot from their resort area.
Jim Wear, the president of ProPromotions, was out of town last week and couldn’t attend the budget session. However, in e-mails he has recently sent regarding the proposed budget cuts, he has described the reduction in funds for the rally as a deal-killer and amounting to forcing the group to the event for free. He also had made some critical remarks pertaining to certain city officials in these e-mails.
After a three-year absence, the rally returned to Cripple Creek in 2010, when an agreement was reached between former mayor Dan Baader and Wear. However, several months after the pact, Baader resigned as mayor. A more formal operating agreement then was crafted between former city administrator Ray White and ProPromotions.
Another meeting has been scheduled for this Wednesday (Oct 26) at 3 p.m. in an effort to reach an agreement between the city and ProPromotions regarding the future of the rally in Cripple Creek. The meeting, which will be held at the CC Council Chambers, is open to the public.