CB council proposes another timeline for Chamber contract

Frustrations mount but another deadline for another plan set for April

By Mark Reaman

Apart from Crested Butte mayor Ian Billick, the Crested Butte town council members generally continued to tread lightly over the town relationship with the Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce and its services agreement for running the Visitor Center at Sixth and Elk. While Billick continued to express great frustration over the way the Chamber runs the Center and has (or hasn’t) responded to town questions, others on council seemed more concerned with the possibility of not having anyone in the building to run a Visitor Center. 

Still, at the November 20 board meeting, the council agreed to contribute 75% of the town’s 2024 business license fee revenue, or about $47,000, to have the Chamber run the Visitor Center through the end of next September. For that money, the town is requiring the Chamber to come back to them by April 1, 2024 with a new and improved business plan for Visitor Center operations and if council buys into the proposal, the remaining 25% of the business license fees will be contributed to the Chamber. If not, the town will take action to see if any other entity is interested in running a Visitor Center at the Four-Way Stop.

Billick started the Chamber conversation by stating he felt town needed both a Visitor Center and a Chamber of Commerce but reminded council members he has been dealing with the situation for a long time. “This conversation started two years ago, and they still haven’t been responsive,” he said, pointing out the Chamber had ignored several deadlines to provide information requested by the town, had not adhered to the town schedules with budget matters, had not provided “adequate answers” to town questions and showed the town that its financials “were a bit of a mess.”

“I’m not in favor of funding this agreement,” he said. “There is no fiduciary oversight and no accountability for them. We made clear there would be consequences if they didn’t respond to us and we are failing to live up to that. This pattern has happened multiple times. I am very against giving them 100% of the business license fees. If anything, I think it should be 50% or 75% at most. I’ve said I could be supportive of a very large request if they presented something interesting, but I haven’t seen the logic.”

“What would reducing the town contribution to 50% or 75% do,” asked councilmember Mallika Magner.

“I think they need to figure out what they’re doing and how the financial model works,” responded Billick. “We need to accelerate that instead of having death by a thousand cuts.”

“It seems clear they need a radical remake of what they’re doing,” said Magner. “But I’m afraid if we don’t give them the money, we won’t have a Visitor Center.”

“It is important to have a Visitor Center,” agreed councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “If they aren’t producing to our expectations, how long would it take for us to find someone else to run the Visitor Center? What is a better date aside from the August 15, 2024 in the proposed agreement, to have them show us serious changes? Theoretically the Chamber of Commerce is strong on business and can look at best practices to come up with a good plan.”

“We have asked the Chamber to see serious changes multiple times and not received anything. I think that until we issue a Request-for-Proposals we won’t know what’s out there,” said Billick.

“I think we’re rewarding bad behavior by giving them 100% of the fee revenue,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “I think the August date is too long but want someone in there. Maybe an expedited timeline is needed.”

“I understand your points, Ian. The 100% shows we are supporting them but even at 100% they said they can’t keep the Center open year round,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty.

Town attorney Karl Hanlon said the current lease requires the Visitor Center to be open year round with limited exceptions. If they do not make that happen, he said they would be in violation of their lease with the town. He suggested council could provide funding for the Chamber with a requirement that a new business plan be in place by the start of the second quarter of the year.

“I want to see a pathway. I don’t necessarily want to kick them out,” said Billick. 

“I hear your frustrations, but we need to be cautious of the perception that we might be contributing to their failure,” said councilmember Kent Cowherd. “I would hate to see the unintended consequences of us not funding them at the 100%.”

“To me we’re perceiving that they are further and further operating in a hole,” said Magner. “It’s not just about missing deadlines.”

“What is the programmable plan? This is public money,” reiterated Billick. “Based on what I’ve seen, I’m concerned to just keep giving them money. The way it’s all been going, they’ll just ask for more money, and we’ll just give it to them.”

“I like the idea of setting very clear expectations by Quarter-1. That gives them the best chance we can,” said MacMillan. “I think given the type of people we have running businesses in town, we could find people to run a Visitor Center.”

“A lot of people Google things now,” pointed out Fenerty.

“Right. How people get their information is different now and the Chamber doesn’t seem to have changed in forever. I think maybe six months of funding is too short because summer is critical. We can ask for a business plan by the end of Quarter-1 and fund them through Quarter-3. If we like their new business plan, then Halleluiah, we can keep funding them,” said Billick.

Council agreed to that proposal. Hanlon will rework the proposed service agreement with those changes and send it to the Chamber for consideration. The council will get another look at the agreement at the first meeting in December.

There were no Chamber representatives at the November 20 meeting. 

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