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TTC, CTC and Chamber meet to discuss contract for Visitor’s Center

For the first time ever, representatives of the County Tourism Commission, Town Tourism Committee and Chamber of Commerce boards met in a joint meeting to discuss how the three groups might coordinate their efforts more efficiently.

The meeting, held at The Springs Resort last Monday, got off to a rough start as members of the Chamber’s board bristled at some of the statements made in the TTC’s opening presentation.

At issue was the management contract the TTC has with the Chamber over the operation of the Pagosa Springs Visitor’s Center. In its 2010 budget, the TTC has funded operations and maintenance of the Visitor’s Center to the tune of $88,000. The CTC has also allocated $66,000 to the Visitor’s Center in its 2010 budget.

“We do have some concern with the TTC primarily supporting the Visitor’s Center,” said TTC Board Chair Bob Hart, adding, “... without oversight. One of the things we want to consider is the TTC to rent a space in the Visitor’s Center.”

Speaking for the Chamber, Board President Kathy Keyes responded, “This board strongly feels that the Chamber’s home is the Visitor’s Center.”

Among the concerns brought up by the TTC was staffing at the Visitor’s Center (and availability of the center to visitors), overlapping missions (both the Chamber and the TTC plan, coordinate and fund various local events), poor communication between the various boards and not having clear definitions of what each organization does. However, it was the need for improved accountability for public money that, according to Hart, was the primary focus of the meeting.

Both the TTC and the CTC are funded through lodger’s tax revenues — a 3-percent rate in the town and a 1-percent rate in the county. Thus, the $154,000 that both entities use to fund the Visitor’s Center are defined as public money.

For its part, according to Chamber Executive Director Mary Jo Coulehan, the Chamber pays about $220,000 annually for the Visitor’s Center.

While TTC Coordinator Jennie Green said, “We need to clearly define the TTC’s and CTC’s interaction as related to the Visitor’s Center,” she raised the issue of the center’s hours of operations and availability during holidays. However, Coulehan defended the center’s availability, saying that the facility was open most of the day on Sundays and closed only for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Hoping to dispel some of the confrontation emerging in the meeting, Hart said, “We looked at this meeting as an opportunity to get together and share ideas. We’re not saying the Chamber has been doing a bad job.”

Nonetheless, neither the TTC nor the Chamber could reach an agreement on two primary issues: the role of each organization in promoting tourism and the particulars of a management contract regarding the Visitor’s Center.

“Is it possible to sign the contract today?” Keyes asked, adding that both the Chamber and TTC could revisit the contract a few months later, once other details of Visitor Center responsibilities and operations had been discussed and further agreements reached.

However, the TTC board demurred, looking for a firmer commitment on funding oversight.

Short of signing a contract on Monday, the organizations were left with confusion as to the various organizations’ roles in promoting tourism and coordinating events.

Pointing out that local events bring in “a bulk of the visitors” during the summer, Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw, representing the CTC, said, “Perhaps that’s an area the TTC should take over.”

“We all want to do our best to service our tourists,” Green added. “I see overlap.”

Explaining the Chamber’s place in event promotion and tourism, Coulehan said, “We do have a Chamber hat and a Visitor’s Center hat and you get the best worlds. I think, when I look at it, we have the community in mind.”

“The community is confused as far as the different roles we play,” Green responded.

In fact, it is far from clear as to whom is doing what and if there is any redundancy in those efforts. While the Chamber’s role in providing support and promotion for local businesses is clear, efforts to promote and host local events, as well as promoting tourism (including operating the Visitor’s Center) are a bit murkier. In the meantime, while it is clear the TTC has increased success in boosting tourist numbers — lodger’s tax receipts were up 9.2 percent last year, relative to 2008 (see related story) — its role in events promotion and Visitor Center oversight is less clear. Finally, the CTC, having just formed a new board on Tuesday after a restructuring of the board earlier this year, has a far more nebulous role in local tourism other than addressing tourism specific to the county.

By the end of the meeting, members of the TTC and Chamber agreed to meet again, hoping to more clearly define roles in promoting events and tourism, while further discussing a management contract for the Visitor’s Center. That meeting will most likely take place later this month.

jim@pagosasun.com