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Mt. CB admission tax grants confusing to some applicants

Denied video/website development; some feeling slighted

By Katherine Nettles

During a special meeting, the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council considered and approved 2019 summer admission tax grants to local organizations. They awarded $114,000 on February 26 to various marketing campaigns, but not without some controversey.

Travel Crested Butte was a big winner of the evening, getting almost twice as much as they requested, while the Crested Butte Arts Festival walked away somewhat empty-handed.

Some apparent changes to the way Town Council handled the process ruffled a few feathers—even those of some Town Council members themselves.

In an unusual arrangement, the council voted 5 to 2 in favor of allocations that included granting an extra $18,000 to Travel Crested Butte, in addition to its application for $17,000, for “cooperative ad buy with other entities, up to a 50/50 match,” as stated by Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes.

Travel Crested Butte was tasked with helping Crested Butte Devo, Crested Butte Nordic, the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival and the Crested Butte Arts Festival to market their events. This has been seen by some as designating one for-profit entity in town as a sole vendor for marketing campaigns while disallowing non-profits to choose their own, in some cases already established, vendors.

Councilmembers Lauren Daniel and Steve Morris voted against the motion, both citing that the reasoning behind denying certain requests was inconsistent with the application language.

The 4 percent admissions taxes are collected from all events that take place in Mt. Crested Butte each year. Twenty-five percent goes to transportation and the remaining 75 percent is distributed for summer and winter to market events that bring visitors to the area. Voters approved the tax in 2002, and the bulk of the tax historically has been generated through ski pass and lift ticket sales.

A three-person committee, made up of Barnes, councilmember Roman Kolodziej and former mayor David Clayton, reviewed all the grant applications prior to the meeting, and Barnes shared their recommendations with the council after the applicants presented their formal requests. Barnes reminded the group that the admissions tax committee has declined funding website development and video production, “because it is not considered a direct enough activity to match the use of marketing funds,” he said.

The recommendations included many stipulations that marketing be steered out of the valley and to non-peak times for Mt. Crested Butte by avoiding June, July and August. It also recommended awarding no funds to the Crested Butte Arts Festival and Crested Butte Nordic.

Based on these recommendations, the council discussed and finally voted on the allocations after nearly three and a half hours.

Living Journeys, which benefits Gunnison Valley residents who are dealing with cancer, was granted $8,000 of its $10,000 request.

The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce received its grant requests: $1,000 for the Crested Butte Pole Pedal Paddle event in late April; $5,000 for Crested Butte Bike Week; $2,000 out of its requested $4,000 for the Mt. Crested Butte Chili and Beer Festival; and $8,000 for the band that plays during the Fourth of July fireworks.

Michelle Bivens, the executive director of the Wildflower Festival received $3,500 of her $5,240 request.

The Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP, formerly the TA) received its $15,000 request for additions to its CBGT Trails and Trail Quest app, and an amended request of $25,000 for airline marketing for flights out of Houston.

Adaptive Sports Center’s (ASC) Nicole Swaggerty received $10,000 of her request of $15,000 to continue bringing in rehabilitation centers to showcase what the local Adaptive Sports Center has to offer.

Josh Futterman with Travel Crested Butte received his full request of $17,000 for a marketing campaign similar to his campaign from last year, except for plans to heavily market June, September and October. Last year he reported his campaign had 490,000 views and he estimated this led to about $146,000 in visitor spending. In a surprising twist, Futterman was awarded an additional $18,000 that he had not requested to work with the others.

“This comes with a pretty large caveat,” said Barnes. “You have to … cooperate ad-wise with the entities that we seemingly shorted.”

Council member Dwayne Lehnertz asked how it would be for Futterman “embracing an additional responsibility.”

“We’ve worked with most of these organizations in the past, so it’s not out of our wheelhouse,” answered Futterman. He said the most time-intensive aspect of what he does is video production.

“So you have to chip in, so we are awarding you extra because the committee felt that this was an opportunity to create cohesiveness, because we get the same applicants every year. You seem to be relatively quick on what you can produce,” said Barnes.

Crested Butte Devo was ultimately awarded $3,500 for marketing its family-oriented events during Bike Week. But executive director Amy Nolan questioned the council’s denial of her request for $11,000 for video production. She felt it was unclear that the council was refusing to fund videos and considered that as separate from “media.”

Nolan explained that last year she presented the same grant request to the council and was told that the committee liked her proposal but was worried that she would not have time to produce a video, and turned her down. This year she brought the same request back but allowed more time by requesting the funds for a 2020 marketing campaign, only to be told that they do not fund videos.

“This does not make sense,” Nolan said. “Devo is the only organization allowed to offer a competitive bike event on the Lupine and Lower Loop trail system,” and they want to produce a video from a kid’s perspective that highlights the Mt. Crested Butte trails. “Devo teaches more than 200 riders from ages five to 18 every summer, focusing on trail etiquette and care, team dynamics and a fun and safe environment,” she said. Nolan also questioned the concept of handing all the business to one vendor, as in the case of Travel Crested Butte.

Chelsea Dalporto-McDowell, executive director for the Crested Butte Arts Festival, was also frustrated when her request for $15,000 over a three-year period was denied. The request was to fund expanding and upgrading their website and eventually include events in Mt. Crested Butte. Barnes asked if she had approached Crested Butte for money, and Dalporto-McDowell said she had not. After much discussion of the busy time of year the Arts Festival takes place, she was directed to work with Futterman on moving some attendance up to Mt. Crested Butte.

“This is a little bit of a monopoly,” said Dalporto-McDowell. “There are a lot of other fabulous vendors in this town … and we should be supporting them too.”

“This is the first I’ve heard … Had I known or seen the video production [rule] I certainly wouldn’t have gone through pitching the same or very similar request,” said Nolan. She also expressed concern that she already has a good working relationship with another media marketing vendor.

“Video production is frowned upon—I realize, that’s what Josh [Futterman] does, but with two million hits he is reaching a lot of persons. And he’s not making a movie; he’s making a video with a business that he is promoting. We are willing to give you $2,000 for marketing, to bring those families in,” said Barnes. In the meantime, he recommended Nolan sit down with Futterman, “instead of spending $9,500 for video that benefits the Devo team. We thought we could probably do better.”

Barnes also recalled that they had never awarded Futterman 100 percent of his request before. He said the idea was to hear from Futterman later about the ROI (return on investment) they all had.

“It’s an attempt to consolidate some of the requests by paying someone who is doing a good job of promoting and who has been in front of us before. And asking him to do extra work, with their buy-in, and moving away from supporting these every year,” said Barnes.

Barnes said another consideration was the uncertainty surrounding the future of the admissions tax grant. New Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) owner Vail Resorts has not yet announced how they will handle the admissions tax with the town since they purchased the resort last fall. Vail Resorts sells many of its passes online or outside of Mt. Crested Butte, which will possibly lead to fewer taxes for the grant funds. And while it formerly received funding for its summer Unplugged series, the resort did not apply for any grants this time around.

“We don’t know long-term where the admissions tax is going to go under Vail,” explained Barnes. “I’m pleased with what they are telling us so far, but as of yet, even for next winter, we aren’t sure. We won’t know until April or May.

“So the point is, can we begin to wean back these requests? Can we get a relationship going with Josh? I’m not trying to short anybody out of these requests. We’ve got to start cutting the cord. We’ve been saying that repeatedly—consolidate some of the use of effort,” he added.

Kolodziej said he is also trying to draw a difference between media production and promotion.

Crested Butte Nordic Center’s request from Hannah Beren to support the Summer Grand Traverse was awarded $4,000 out of the $6,000, and instructed that it be steered away from use in shuttling racers to or from Aspen, and directed to providing a better finish line expo in Mt. Crested Butte. This too led to discussion between Beren and the council regarding rules that she found to have been unclear in the application process.

Farmer said she wished the council had been more upfront about not wanting to use admissions tax money for websites, videos and events in July and August. “We need to make these conditions clear in the grant application,” she said. Kolodziej and Lehnertz agreed, as did councilmembers Daniel and Morris.

Daniel said she sees videos as part of media, and that there are no limitations of seasons in the current guidelines—therefore she would be voting no on the motion.

Kolodziej said he thought the council could have done this “much cleaner” and he did not like the way they funneled $18,000 to Travel Crested Butte. Morris agreed with Kolodziej, and with Daniel that the definition of media includes videos.

Ultimately, Morris joined Daniel in voting no on the motion, which passed with the other five in favor.

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