Triple Crown profits down

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The cheering emanating from Klumker Field quieted weeks ago. The minivans and sport utility vehicles with soap-painted windows disappeared with it, as did mobs of uniformed baseball players strolling Lincoln Avenue between games.

And yet Triple Crown's impact on Steamboat Springs -- or, more specifically, the impact of the decline in Triple Crown events this summer -- is still vibrating throughout the business community.

"There hasn't been a business that hasn't felt it," said Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

From the pro rodeo series to restaurants to the lodging communities, Evans-Hall said the drop in the number of teams that came to Steamboat hurt almost every business's cash register.

Triple Crown founder Dave King said the month of June saw an increase in the number of teams in Steamboat, but July and August were down. King's numbers show a total of 684 teams came to Steamboat this year, compared with 844 last year.

He attributed the decrease to several factors: a change in the city's contract, which moved the girls fast-pitch championship tournament to Park City, Utah, the effects of the national economy and a few customers who felt Steamboat's fields were below par.

Evans-Hall estimated the drop meant about 10,000 fewer people in town. Those 10,000 people could have spent an estimated $3.33 million in Steamboat by the time they left.

"It was a significant decrease," Evans-Hall said.

When the City Council met with the chamber Tuesday, Evans-Hall shared the declining numbers and asked council about the city's plans for building more fields.

Evans-Hall said the biggest decrease came in the last two weeks of July. Lodging numbers were about even for the July Fourth weekend, the Balloon Rodeo weekend after it and the Mountain Classic Soccer Tournament the next weekend.

Nightly condominiums rentals and restaurants took the biggest hit, she said.

City Council President Kathy Connell, who co-owns Colorado Resort Services, said her company was affected by the decreasing number of teams staying for the middle of the week and teams from the Midwest not being able to make it.

"They reduced the contract, but we still had trouble with performance. So many teams felt like they couldn't travel. It was a double whammy," Connell said. "That really affects the economy. Steamboat locals don't have as much work as they normally have, as well as income."

King said the biggest loss was the 143 teams the girls fast-pitch softball tournament brought into Steamboat in 2002.

Almost a year ago, council negotiated a deal that limited the amount of field space King could use. The council refused to give King the use of its Emerald Park fields, which it said were specifically built for residents.

So instead of traveling to Steamboat, 200 teams went to Park City to play fast-pitch softball, leaving a gaping hole in Steamboat's numbers, King said.

"It was certainly analyzed," King said. "The impact was fully present before the decision was made. We could no longer handle the size of the girls event. We couldn't have handled two events without additional fields. We had to have Emerald Park. Without it, something had to go."

King is all too familiar with the political minefield Triple Crown can create. He easily recalls council meetings during last summer's negotiations where residents spoke out against Triple Crown and the congestion it caused in the summer. Opponents raised objections to the use of Emerald Park, the tournaments' long hours, the large number of weekend tournaments and inconsiderate Triple Crown customers.

"There was definitely a sentiment to take something off the table and not overwhelm the city," King said.

In 2004, Triple Crown hopes to have the number of tourists to just below the number in 2002 by bringing back the Division II Baseball Tournament, which left Steamboat a few years ago because of field constraints.

"It won't be back to that (2002 number). But, it will be close to that level, which is a manageable number," King said.

Evans-Hall said Triple Crown is also looking at a double-elimination format, which would mean teams could stay in the tournament longer and could come to Steamboat early in the week. She also said Triple Crown is looking at filming some of the younger players and creating a syndicated program, which could drive more players to Steamboat.

In order for the tournaments to remain in Steamboat, King would like to see two more fields in the next two to three years.

Creating a plan for new fields was part of the five-year contract the city negotiated last fall. In July, the negotiating team handed King its proposal. The team identified three properties owned by the Steamboat Springs School District that could be used:

n A site near Strawberry Park Middle School, which was used in the past as a backup field for Triple Crown;

n Land near Whistler Park that is being used as extra parking;

n Land by Steamboat II.

The team also evaluated land by the Christian Heritage School. Its proposal also looks at the option of purchasing additional property and developing it into a ball field but does not identify specific places.

King said he would have liked to have seen a plan that would have allowed for more than one field at one site and wants to know the funding mechanism to create or improve the fields.

"From an administration standpoint and opportunity standpoint, being able to play in one location with two to four fields is ideal," said King, who didn't see the negotiating team's proposed plan as a long-term solution.

Fields have long been a problem for Triple Crown, King said. The conditions of the fields has been sub par, and some players have not returned because of it, he said.

"The general caliber of the fields is significantly below the rest of America," King said.

The fields are improving, he said, partly because of a stipulation in last year's contract that the city put $75,000 a year into field improvements.

King said Triple Crown plans to contribute to field development and he believes grants are available that could help, too.

At Tuesday night's meeting, as the city was going over its list of five-year capital improvements, Evans-Hall reminded them of their commitment to look at new fields for Triple Crown.

"There are a lot of different ways for funding. I just wanted to see a commitment from the city to at least be a party at the table," she said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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