Town ready to explore all ideas for visitor services at Four-way
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce has put out an “urgent” call to its members to support a doubling of the current Business and Occupational License Fee (BOLF) in Crested Butte to help pay for operations at the Four-way Stop Visitor Center. A current business license costs $100 a year but the Chamber sent out an email Monday asking for support to increase the fee to $200 in order “to provide enough funding to keep the Four-way Visitor Center open year-round.” In Crested Butte the town collects the fee and passes along 75% of the revenue to the Chamber for Visitor Center services.
In the email asking for support, the Chamber asked its members to support the fee increase to keep the Visitor Center open 365 days a year. The email said the Visitor Center has seen record visitation in 2023 and doubling the fee would fund 77% of the center’s operating costs as opposed to 60% as is currently the case. The email encourages members to do three things: requests that members let the Chamber’s executive director Scott Clarkson know if there is support for the fee hike; asks for a testimonial in support of the increase citing the value of the Four-way Visitor Center; and encourages members to attend the November 6 town council meeting in person or on Zoom to show support to the council for the fee increase and a 365-days-a-year Visitor Center.
The town council has placed an agenda item for the Monday meeting basically to allow councilmembers to discuss the idea of exploring whether there is another entity or organization that would be interested in running the Visitor Center at Sixth and Elk.
“On April 3, 2023 the town council agreed to provide the Chamber with funding in the amount of $60,000 towards operating the Visitor Center in 2023. A condition of that funding was that the Chamber provide the Town with a written funding request for 2024 by August 15. The 2024 funding request was received on October 19,” explained Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald.
“The funding request asks for $98,000 from the town, to be generated by doubling the annual business license fee of $100.
“Right now, the council simply wants to discuss the best way to provide Visitor Center services and is not contemplating eliminating the Visitor Center,” said MacDonald.
Clarkson admitted the Chamber had not met earlier target dates to provide requested plan and budget forecast information to the town. “We have met with the town manager and mayor a few times this year, most recently in August. The expectation was for the Chamber to provide a plan and funding request much earlier in the process than we were able to deliver for a myriad of reasons,” he said. “The Chamber’s board (and me) are doing our very best to rally support for the fee increase so that it’s an easier decision for the town council to make. The burden of the increase to fund the Visitor Center is on our businesses, whether Chamber members or not. Town would just need to approve the increase, collect the fees and distribute them as they decide to.”
Clarkson said 2023 operating costs for the Visitor Center were budgeted at about $94,000 but will top $100,000 by the end of the year. He said that in 2023 the Chamber received $60,000 from the town even though the business license fee revenue amounted to only $47,250. He said the Chamber also receives an annual restricted grant of $25,000 from TAPP that is dedicated to offsetting Visitor Center direct labor. These grant funds are allocated to each visitor center’s operating budget in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. In 2023, he said $15,500, or 62% of the TAPP grant, was allocated to the Four-way. He said membership dues/fees collected remain in the Chamber budget while proceeds from larger events are a reserve to offset the Chamber’s overall operating budget. About $5,000 is generated from the sale of maps, guides, local art and photography but Clarkson said a conscious decision has been made to keep that scale small so as not to compete with local retailers.
The Chamber also picks up several expenses not included in the operational budget. Clarkson noted the Chamber is responsible for things like utilities, building maintenance, some snow removal and the cleaning of the restrooms at the north end of the building.
As for the proposed fee increase, “This was a discussion among the Executive Board as part of the budget process,” Clarkson said in an email. “They were unanimous in their direction to seek an increase to the business license fee as the best course of action.”
The proposed 2024 Chamber budget includes all of the direct operating expenses of the Four-way Visitor Center, including an increase to the average wage earned by the information team to $19 per hour. “That is so we can be more competitive in the job market,” he said. “We plan to add an information specialist to the Four-way staff Friday through Monday from June through August to help intercept and greet visitors, and to augment the existing staff during peak times.
“We are exploring more ways for the Visitor Center to engage and educate more of the visitors in town, as well as those passing through town,” Clarkson continued. “We are having discussions with CBMBA (Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association) and CBCC (Crested Butte Conservation Corps) to maintain a communication link between the backcountry trailheads and the visitor center to help manage crowding at our popular drainages. The Visitor Center staff is often the first point of contact, so there is an opportunity to directly influence where the visitor experience takes place.”
Clarkson said both the Crested Butte Visitors Center at the Four-way and the Mt. Crested Butte Visitors Center at the transit center are busy. “The Four-way Visitor Center will engage about 22,000 visitors by the end of 2023,” he explained. “The 34,570 number is the visitation projected for the two visitor centers combined. These numbers are based on walk-in visitors in 2023 and do not include the roughly 3,000 phone calls or the 500 email responses the information specialists have fielded.”
When asked why the Visitor Center is open even in the off-season slow times, Clarkson said, “We’ve considered a reduced schedule during off-season, but the Chamber is often the only resource available when hospitality businesses are closed. Plus, as we’re all witnessing, the ‘off-season’ is shrinking each year because visitation is still growing, even in April/May and October/November. If the funding mechanism remains the same, then we will need to reduce the hours of operation.”
According to Clarkson, the Chamber has 320 current members and is projecting 330 by the end of 2023. The high point was 347 at the end of 2019. “During COVID, membership dropped due to business closures, transactions involving changes in ownership and due to expense reductions at a time when the revenue picture was uncertain for many businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector,” he said. “We anticipate some growth as new restaurants open and as we continue to outreach our newer businesses in the community.”