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Born in Denver
Good Morning Scott W –
Your suggestion has merit.
Hi Scott W –
I can recall meeting with Andy Wirth (Ski Corp VP Marketing) in 1998(?) and discussing the Chamber’s Lodging Barometer at length. There seemed to be a large disconnect between the number of visitors the “barometer” was projecting and the number of skiers coming to the area on a given day. Andy was using the data from the barometer to set anticipated staffing and food ordering levels. Simply put, trusting the “barometer” was costing Ski Corp money because the projected number of visitors never materialized at the area.
Andy was a pretty good data geek and between the two of we could not figure out how to make the Lodging Barometer a creditable tool to forecast visitors. It had value in measuring magnitude but not the actual number of visitors.
It is possible to roughly estimate the number of visitors in town on a monthly basis using Accommodation Tax data. The problem with this is that the data lags and it is not weekly. For example, we know that in July of this year $75,000 in Accommodation Tax was collected. What this means is that $7.5 million of lodging product was sold.
If we assume that the Average Daily Rate in July = $135;
Average Number in Visiting Party = 2.6 people;
Average Length of Stay = 3.8 days
There was about 38,000 folks staying in paid lodging in July. Factor in an additional 15% to recognize friends/family, timeshares and part-time residents I think it is reasonable to estimate that throughout the entire month of July there was between 40,000 and 45,000 visitors in town. How these visitors were distributed across the 31 days in July is a wee-bit more math than I want to do this early in the morning. Does it really matter?
Simply put, I think we can get a reasonably “honest number” if we can get some agreement on the assumptions to use by season or month. I am very interested in getting an “honest number” and there is a reasonable way to calculate it.
(Although I am a member of City Council my opinions are my own and may or may not be shared by my fellow council members.)
I served a term on the Editorial Board about 2 years ago. I know I frustrated Scott Stanford about every other week to the point he would simply get up and walk out of the room. When I started my term on the editorial board I told them I felt that the editorial topics too often were nothing more than a “feel good/happy” topic – like “Call your mother on Mother’s day”. I would push back on “feel good/happy” topics. The group of us on the editorial board would have a lively give and take discussion – and eventually Brent Boyer (Editor) would see the value of moving beyond a “feel good/happy” topic.
I can recall during my term when I volunteered and took the lead and wrote the editorial for the week 3 times. Brent was blown away that I would do this. Tom Ross’ historical knowledge about the community “Rocks” – combined that with my areas of knowledge and some good editorials were written that called attention to “stuff” where as a community we could do better.
(Although I am a member of City Council, my opinions are my own and may not be shared by my fellow council members.)
Hi All –
Sometimes a little background is useful. The Lodging Barometer is a tool that I helped the Chamber developed in 1994(?) when I was working for them as the Visitor Center Manager. It was simply a tool to help measure the magnitude of occupancy initially comparing one week to the next and eventually year-over-year. At first this occupancy magnitude was based on a sampling of about 15 different lodging properties.
The question about how many visitors were in town would get repeatedly asked and I was clear this tool was never designed to do that. I lost that argument. Eventually the Chamber Director to be responsive to this question about visitor count started using total “pillows” as reported by Central Reservations as a way to determine the number of visitors. An assumption was made that 80% of the pillows were filled so if there were 20,000 pillows and the occupancy based on a less than perfect sampling was 75% simply meant that 12,000 visitors were in town. This was nothing more than fantasy it was never validated and it never matched up with anything close to lodging nights sold based on Average Daily Rate – however, it was a relatively easy way to respond to the demand as to how many visitors were in town.
Eventually the Chamber abandoned doing this calculation because it was “bogus”. However, the paper when the chamber would not do the “bogus” calculation based on Pillows – started doing it themselves. Let’s not blame the Chamber – they are not doing the calculation the paper is.
I know that over time the lodging property sampling has gotten smaller and the number of pillows has changed. I do not know what percentage factor is being applied to pillows – but it is the newspaper that is doing the calculation and NOT the Chamber.
In 20 years the lodging barometer has morphed in to a tool that it was never intended to be. It likely still has some usefulness as far as measuring magnitude – provided the sampling of properties is valid but it is worthless in forecasting the number of visitors. I have asked the paper to stop reporting visitors based on the Lodging Barometer without success (yet).
My best guess and I mean “guess” is that the number of visitors staying in paid lodging is about 20% of the visitor number the paper is calculating. So this weekend is not 7,850 visitors it is closer to 1,250.
I understand why the Lodging Barometer holds so much fascination I only wish that it did not. Oh well, there are bigger battles to fight.
(Although I am a current member of City Council, my opinions are my own and may or may not be shared by other council members.)
What does the .25% sales tax cost the average family annually? For the purposes of this discussion Steamboat Springs means not only those folks living within the city limits but also includes folks living in the surrounding area such as Steamboat II, Silver Spur, Heritage Park, and TreeHaus. Using Census data based on the Steamboat Springs, CCD (essentially the RE-2 school district boundaries) there are approximately 4,400 families.
The median family income in this area (greater Steamboat) is $77,230. If, we assume that the disposable income (total income less federal/state income taxes) is about 22% of total income, the disposable income is in the range of $60,250. This $60,250 is what a family uses to pay for (housing, food, transportation, apparel, health care, entertainment, education, personal and retirement savings, cash contributions, etc.)
Not everything a local family spends on is subject to this tax and not every item subject to the tax is purchased locally. A typical family spends about 13% on food at home and away. In any given year about 95% of this activity happens locally. Another 12% is spent on items that would be subject to sales tax, however, likely only about 50% of these purchases happen locally. All this means is that this .25% sales tax cost each family conservatively about $30 annually.
What is the air program worth directly/indirectly to the average family in Steamboat Springs? I think this is a fair question to ask the proponents of this tax. Simply put, “What does this $30 annually buy me and my family and is this investment worth it”?
“Buy me” in this context likely needs to be no more complicated than increases in area employment, household income and sales taxes on both a direct and indirect basis. I do not know what the answer is yet however I know that a reasonable calculation can be made and I intend to do it.
(Although I am a member of City Council my opinions are my own and may or may not be shared by my fellow council members.)
On a philosophical level I have a strong objection to re-purposing property taxes citizens voted to be used for other purposes. I know that the argument is made that the improvements to the Downtown area represent an investment that results in greater taxes 25 years in the future that otherwise would not have happened.
Even if that were true what gives the City the right to re-direct property taxes intended for other purposes? This is why the proposed change in the URA regulations will at least give the elected bodies of those most impacted a say in how those funds are spent. Right now the City is making this property tax re-directing decision for them without their OK.
Although City can legally do this, it is heavy handed and it is not right! It certainly is not the neighborly thing to do.
(Although I am a member of City Council my opinions are my own and may not reflect those of my fellow council members.)
We need to ask ourselves the following within the context of the state statute - is the “Blight” so prevalent Downtown that it:
“…substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare...” [Colorado Revised Statute 31-25-103(2)]
Let’s take these one at a time:
The Deteriorating Condition Downtown Impairs or Arrest the Sound Growth of the Municipality. Really? Last year sales tax collections exceeded projections by over $2 million. Reserves are sufficient that $10 million was transferred to the Capital Improvement Budget for the construction of a new police station. The City finance department is projecting a 4% growth in sales tax collections in the coming year. Evidence points to the reality that the City is in pretty good shape financially.
The Deteriorating Condition Downtown Retards The Provision of Housing Accommodations. Really? If this is occurring why are the condo units in Howelsen Place, Alpen Glow and the Olympian selling? They might not be selling as fast as the developers of those properties would like but the probable reason for this is market conditions and not deterioration of downtown Steamboat Springs.
The Deteriorating Condition Downtown Constitutes An Economic or Social Liability. Really? Downtown Lincoln Ave and Yampa Street have never been more vibrant. Evidence for this is the highest retail and food/beverage sales the area has ever seen. Revitalize?! It has never been more vital!
The Deteriorating Condition Downtown Constitute A Menace To The Public Health, Safety, Morals, or Welfare. Really? The crime incident stats in the proposed Downtown District of the URA (DTURA) are as follows:
- 2008 = 243
- 2009 = 227
- 2010 = 182
- 2011 = 211
- 2012= 227
As a data geek it looks to me the conditions are in the same range year-over-year. I am actually surprised that these are as low as they are because of the concentration of establishments downtown that serve alcohol. A correlation between alcohol consumption and crime incidents exists. It would therefore be logical that City Council, acting as the Liquor Licensing Authority stop approving any new licenses in the area – and non-renew many of them going forward. (Only kidding – but logically consistent.)
Is the area deteriorating to the point that it meets the intent of the Colorado Statute? No way!! Let’s not kid ourselves. The finding of “Blight” is being done to fulfill the requirements of the creation of the DTURA and therefore allowing the use of TIF financing. Calling the area “Blighted” is an insult to the intelligence of our citizenry. Simply put, this is a contrived finding and I am not willing to play that game.
Here in lies a key structural challenge facing City Council. The 7 City Council members can best be described as a group of volunteer citizen legislators. All 7 of us have family/job/career/business responsibilities to varying degrees.
City Council has the oversight responsibility for an entity with a $50+ million annual budget. (Enterprise and General Funds combined.) This about the same size of Routt County’s budget. I would contend that the City has a greater or at least an equivalent number of “moving pieces” associated with its operation.
The three County Commissioners typically spend 2 full days a week (Monday/Tuesday) in in scheduled public meetings fulfilling their oversight responsibilities. Essentially as Commissioners their role is a full-time job. They cannot be characterize as volunteer citizen legislators.
What this means is that for City Council there is a great reliance on staff to explore options. There is nothing wrong with this – as long as City Council understands the difference between abdications vs. delegation. The oversight responsibilities Council is charged with, to the best of our abilities, is understanding the pro/cons of the different options available and represent the citizens. From my perspective occasionally the staff presents a narrow spectrum of options. Amongst the different CC members sometimes a narrowed approach is OK and sometimes it is not.
The challenge as described above is not new to this CC. Prior CCs held work sessions open to the public to help them address this challenge. Was that a perfect solution? NO! However, a work session provided the opportunity for CC in the full view of the public to deliberate amongst themselves, interested citizens and staff – without the formality associated with a regular City Council meeting. In a work session sometimes good ideas emerge that nobody thought of. Given the opportunity to deliberate a broader spectrum of options will be explored in a work session and likely better decisions made.
Prior CCs scheduled the 2nd Tuesday of each month as a work session to discuss a specific topic(s). Without questions work sessions can be “overkill”. If there was no pressing topic the citizenry, Council members and/or staff wanted discussed (deliberated) the meeting was cancelled. Paul when you were City Manager did you see value in work sessions?
(Although I am a current member of City Council my opinions are my own and may or may not be shared by my fellow City Council members.)
You may have missed your calling. You have mastered the “Art of Description”. This is no longer simply a column about biking it likely meets the definition of literature. You made description an active part of the story.
Who knows you may be the next William Faulkner. He was known for his ability to use elaborate and lengthy descriptions to paint a meticulous picture in the reader’s mind. You have done that.
Keep up the good work!
Hi Gene –
I appreciate your perspective and concern. I have also asked myself the same question, “What has happened to the Yampa?” I am puzzled as well. Folks that tell me they had a great (day/evening) on the river – whereas for me it is more of a disappointing hit and miss experience over the past several years. In part this is why they call it fishing and not catching.
The reality is that there is a host of challenges facing this fishery ranging from Whirling Disease, Northern Pike, lack of replacement stocking and recreational tubing.
During the summer months the Yampa River through town is best characterized as an amusement ride. Evidence of this is that Disney named one of their ride attractions at Blizzard Beach Water Park, Teamboat Springs. Where do you think they got the idea to do that?
Several years ago I was involved as a representative from Yampa Valley Fly Fishers in the development of the River Management Plan I think that was commissioned by the City and Colo. Division of Wildlife. From my perspective we screwed up by limiting commercial tubing operations to only below 5th Street – thinking this would take the pressure off above 5th. It was assumed that only a few local kids would tube the river above that point. Wow – were we wrong! The ticket for this river amusement ride is a $21 blow up tube from Walmart to Sports Authority and now even Walgreens.
The commercial tubing operations collect a user fee from every tuber. These funds are used for river clean-up, structure and habitat improvement. I think that there may be some merit to charging a small fee on the retail purchase of tubes. A dollar per tube fee could go a long way. Also I think allowing the commercial tubing operations access above 5th Street would be a viable option to explore. One of the uses of this fee on retail tubes could be to stock the river occasionally during the summer.
(Although I am a member of City Council my opinions are my own and may not be those shared by other members of City Council.)
Last login: Thursday, September 18, 2014
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