Pitkin County officials are considering financially contributing for the first time to large special events such as the Winter X Games and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
How much those contributions might be, or if the county will buck up any dollars at all, has not yet been decided. But the county commissioners have at least agreed to provide in-kind services for the events, but again, the dollar amount hasn’t been decided, Phylis Mattice, assistant county manager, told Aspen City Council during a joint meeting with county commissioners Tuesday.
“[The commissioners] are OK with some level of in-kind for the larger events,” she said Wednesday, adding they also will consider lowering the permit fees and other requirements for lower-level events.
The city has requested that any county services related to this August’s bike race, such as overtime for sheriff’s deputies, be provided in-kind. Last year, the county billed the local organizing committee around $20,000 for services it provided.
Pitkin County does not contribute directly to Aspen Skiing Co. or ESPN for the games. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office last year received $27,487.50 from the X Games for reimbursement of services like compensating deputies for overtime hours and security.
The city of Aspen’s special events department, which is taking a lead role in organizing the stage start and finish awarded to Aspen as part of August’s professional cycling race, estimates that public-sector expenses for the event will reach $387,000 this year, up from last year’s total of $258,000. Last year, Aspen hosted only a stage finish, and the budget increase is related to the additional day of activity. The local organizing committee plans to again sell sponsorships and generate other revenue to offset public costs.
Mattice said she and a team of county staffers are working on policy criteria to present to the commissioners that they would use in determining how much to fund a particular event, based partially on a cost-benefit analysis.
The county has recognized, as has the city, that special events like the X Games and the cycling race not only generate revenue for the business community but also provide immeasurable exposure for the resort.
Mattice said figuring out exactly how much Pitkin County benefits is difficult but anecdotally, officials realize special events bring in tourism dollars that wouldn’t be here otherwise.
The concept of financial contributions to special events was born out of the county’s development of its strategic plan, which calls for a prosperous economy, Mattice said. The city’s request for the county to help offset its expenses came on the heels of that plan, she added.
When the commissioners met on April 16, it was decided that the county should move from being just a regulator of special events to taking on a supportive role.
County staff will present the policy criteria for special events in the next month. Then they will work on regulatory changes, enforcement and the town’s carrying capacity of particular events that come to the resort.
Commissioner George Newman said at the Tuesday meeting that the challenge is funding special events with limited resources, particularly now that there are more of them. The community must figure out if it can bare the brunt of the increase, he said.
Mayor Mick Ireland said he told the board of directors for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association last month that a committee should be set up to deal with the logistics of an increasing number of special events. He noted that other resorts are following Aspen’s success and are becoming more competitive in trying to land special events. He noted that he’s pleased the county has recognized that special events play a vital role in the local economy and marketing of the resort, and agreed that it’s a delicate balance to make sure there aren’t too many here that it disrupts life for the locals.
“You need some quiet time,” he said. “You need some times that aren’t Cirque du Soleil for the rest of the world.”