Woodland Park City Council Debates Funding of Special Events

WP Officials Describe Process of Picking Festival Winners and Losers

Trevor Phipps

In recent years, the topic of funding events in Woodland Park has become a major topic of discussion.

Some civic leaders believe that the city should provide funding for certain “signature events” that help bring people to Woodland Park and into local businesses.

Others however, have said that the funding of events should not come from taxpayers’ pockets.

The discussion hit the forefront during a Woodland Park City Council meeting late last year when budget discussions took place. Organizers of the Salute to American Veterans Rally have asked for financial assistance to hold their event that has proven to draw huge crowds. But in the past, the council had been cautious when it comes to handing out money for local festivities, actions that  have drawn criticism from some Salute supporters.

This debate hit center stage again at last week’s regular council meeting, with the elected leaders and local officials engaging in a lengthy discussion regarding this subject that often triggers lively discussions these days in communities in the Pikes Peak region.  For example, the city of Cripple Creek has had lengthy fights over funding for special events and marketing for years. The same scenario is true for Manitou Springs, and even in Colorado Springs.

Following last week’s discussion, Woodland Park leaders agreed to allocate  a total of $15,000  for special events per year, until this issue is reviewed in more detail at a later date.

A New Funding Process For Events

During the Aug. 3 meeting, departing City Manager Michael Lawson presented a recap on the signature event funding process. He and Don Dezellem, representing the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB), also showed council which events received funding for this year.

This year, the city had a paper application for event organizers to apply for funding. In total, the city had 20 applications turned in for events.

The PRAB then valuated all of the events to decide which would receive funding and how much. In the end, 13 awards were given for events in amounts ranging from $250 to $2,000.

“We define signature events as the following,” Lawson said. “Signature events need to primarily attract tourists outside of Woodland Park and also attract community involvement and local interest. They must have the potential for economic impact like increased hotel occupancy and restaurant sales. And they are those events that balance community impact and interest along with city lodging and sales tax benefits.”

For every application, the PRAB reviewed each event based on the criteria. They determined which events they fund by looking at how much money they bring into the community.

Several city events were awarded the maximum amount of $2,000, including the Salute to American Veterans Rally, the Symphony Above the Clouds, the Mountain Arts Festival, the Farmer’s Market, the Fourth of July Celebration and the Vietnam Veterans Traveling Memorial Wall.

The POW/MIA Recognition Ride received $1,000 and “For the Record- Lightbulb Theater” and “Dana’s Dance in the Round” each received $500 awards. Jr. Woodland Players “Little Mermaid,” Above the Clouds Ultra Trail Run, Bike the Night and the CO State Baton Twirling Competition also were awarded $250.

After the presentation, members of the council had time to ask questions. Councilmember Carrol Harvey asked Dezellem if the event organizers that received awards were nonprofit organizations. Dezellem replied that this type of designation was not part of the criteria.

She also asked if the fact that certain events,  such as the Veterans Rally,  receive assistance from the police department, and whether this was taken into consideration during the funding award. Dezellem said that the three events surrounding the Veterans Rally were looked at, and the board concluded that they all made a local impact and attracted tourists from outside the area.

Councilmember Robert Zuluaga asked how city officials determine how much money is brought in by events and how many tourists they attract. Dezellem indicated if funding was approved next year for this program, they would have better information.

“I was not for this funding at all,” Zuluaga said. “But given the fact that we did not get a new economic development officer and Main Street is still not up and re-launched, this seems to me to be the only window that we have right now attempting to do that function.”

Lawson said that when an economic development director is hired, that this person could take over the process of reviewing event funding from the PRAB.

Mayor Pro Tem Kellie Case said that even though she is the council’s liaison to PRAB, she recused herself from the event funding considerations due to concerns from the community that she had a conflict of interest. That said, she stated that the council should have the opportunity to discuss the awards before they were given out.

Lawson said that this year was the first year that the event awarding process was implemented. He said that they have come up with recommendations for the process in the future.

The staff recommended that the council limit the applicants to only one application per annual event cycle. This could impact the Salute to American Veterans Rally in their future application filings.  This year, the group obtained funds for three different events  taking place on the same weekend.

The staff also thought that the maximum award should be kept at $2,000 per applicant. They also suggested that the PRAB remain to be the award committee, until an economic development oriented committee is formed.

The staff also said that the council could change the maximum to $5,000 per applicant. Or the PRAB could put a minimum on how much is given, which would equate to more funds being given to fewer applicants.

Council agreed that the awards should be limited to one applicant per year. But in differing from the staff, they concluded that they didn’t think the awards should have a maximum or a minimum.

They want the board in charge of the awards to have control over how much money to give out.

Moreover,  they supported  a plan to keep the maximum amount given at $15,000 per year until the issue is discussed during the next budget session.

Also, the elected leaders took the stance that the council did not have to approve the final decision on the awards.