Preservation threatened

Proposed State Historical Fund cuts would hurt Routt County

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— The State Historical Fund has touched every corner of Routt County.

The little red Mesa School House, the Rock Creek Stage Stop, the red brick Hayden Depot, the city's Centennial Hall, log buildings at the 90-year-old Perry-Mansfield Dance Camp, the one-room Moonhill Schoolhouse, the Carpenter Ranch, the Bolten Ranch, the Legacy Ranch -- the list goes on and on. It covers town halls, museums, barns, banks, cemeteries and years of history.

"Where ever you look, there are buildings in all parts of Routt County that have benefited from the state historic fund," said Linda Kakela, the city's director of intergovernmental services.

In the last 10 years, Routt County has received almost $2 million from the State Historical Fund, which generates its money through the state's gaming tax. Statewide, more than $125 million in historic preservation grants have gone to 64 counties to preserve heavily visited Colorado sites like the Molly Brown House and the Mesa Verde National Park.

The fund came under attack this month when state Treasurer Mike Coffman proposed the state legislature divert half of its revenues to tourism marketing. The State Historical Fund receives 28 percent of gaming tax revenue, which this year equalled about $25 million.

With the state in the midst of a budget crisis, Coffman said Colorado puts more far money toward historic preservation than any other state, while it ranks 34th in the nation for tourism funding. Tourism brings added dollars to both local and state governments through sales tax, he argued, and is the second largest industry in Colorado.

Local preservationists are disturbed by the proposed cut, particularly since the fund has already dedicated almost half of its money to state projects this year.

"We certainly are in rural Colorado one of Colorado's little jewels of preservation, so it would hit us pretty hard," Historic Routt County board member Jayne Hill said.

Of the $25 million in the State Historical Fund, 20 percent goes to the three gambling towns where the gaming tax is collected, leaving about $20 million available for grants.

Of that $20 million, City Councilwoman and Historic Routt County Board Member Arianthe Stettner said the state already took $3 million a year from the State Historical Fund to fund the Colorado Historical Society's reference library and 12 museums, and will take out more than $30 million in the next five years for improvements to the state capitol building.

Combine those costs with operating expenses and multi-year grant obligations, and the fund is below $10 million.

"It is going to make grants extremely competitive. That $20 million has been cut in half already, at least for the next six years," Stettner said. "I just can't help but think the people who made the proposal weren't aware or informed."

Right now, the city is using State Historical Funds to restore the Tow House Building at Howelsen Hill and to continue work at the Legacy Ranch east of the city.

Kakela said the city has a list of projects that it had hoped would receive grant money from the State Historical Fund, including a structural assessment of the Depot and restoration projects for the city's historic springs.

Hill worries that, by the time the state Capitol building is finished, structures that need preserving in Routt County could already be gone. Preservation boosts tourism, Hill said, but with harsh winter weather, old buildings only have a limited life.

"We need to look at other sources of creating ways to fund tourism besides cutting into funding which is one of the builders of tourism," Hill said.

Despite the outcry from historic preservationists around the state, Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, said the proposal to divert funds is still very much a possibility.

However, it would take a constitutional amendment to divert money from the State Historical Fund to tourism promotion. When Colorado voters approved limited-stakes gambling in the early 1990s, they did so with the provision that 28 percent of the money would go toward historic preservation.

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville, are potential sponsors of the proposed amendment. Taylor said it would not appear until the 2004 election.

Taylor opposes using the historic preservation fund for tourism and has another proposal that he says can raise $24 million a year. He suggests using video lottery terminals at racetracks to raise money for tourism marketing.

"Why disturb the historical fund? That is old money, existing money and an existing program that clearly works. Why disturb that if we can come up with a new source of money," Taylor said.

Stettner believes historic preservation is an economic driver by itself. She said for every dollar given by the State Historic Fund, six more are generated in the local economy.

And, that does not include the hours of volunteer time and in-kind donations.

Stettner questioned whether money used for tourism promotion would stay in the state economy or go out to large out-of-state advertising firms, and whether tourism marketing fosters the kind of crafts and trade jobs that historic preservation does.

"Tourism promotion has its place," she said. "But, while there are studies that for every dollar spent on tourism, 'X' number will come back, for this particular economy at this particular time, that might not hold true."

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