The Aspen City Council denied a request for $10,000 by the producer of an annual volleyball tournament during Tuesday night’s work session.
Leon Fell, who has produced the MotherLode Classic for 41 years, originally planned to request $35,000, but on Tuesday afternoon, he locked up an additional sponsor to the tune of $25,000.
The reason for Fell’s request was a budget shortfall, suffered when the MotherLode lost sponsors to other volleyball events around the country, most notably a major beer company.
Council member Adam Frisch said he recognizes that the MotherLode is an important event to the town, one that draws a “notorious base” Aspen normally doesn’t see. But he brought up issues he had with the budget Fell submitted last week.
“What I’m wondering is how the producer, which I believe is you, has a salary that goes from ($11,500) to ($15,000),” Frisch said. “and the cost of sponsorship sales from last year went from $35,000 to $11,000. So somewhere in there is more than $10,000. I’m just wondering what’s happening on your end of expenses.”
Fell responded that he puts on the event almost by himself, with the help of a secretary. If the city were to bring in an outsider to run the event, Fell said, it would cost between $20,000 and $25,000. He added that the MotherLode Classic is not a nonprofit but operates like one.
“What I’m looking for this year is not necessarily to make Leon Fell money right now but to keep the event at status quo,” Fell said.
Council member Dwayne Romero said he was against the $10,000 request most notably “because it’s last-minute, out of sequence, and frankly it sounds like ... there was an expectation of communication (between the city and Fell) and review and informal audit just to understand the expenses.”
Council member Ann Mullins said it would be a shame not to fund an event with such a rich history in Aspen, adding that she would be comfortable with granting $5,000 but not $10,000.
Romero said he hopes Fell will come back under the regular schedule of funding rather than the week before the event.
“I would be a big supporter of trying to work you in on a regular basis” for financial support, Frisch said.
Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said MotherLode financial records are currently under audit by the city.
The latest sponsor Fell rounded up is Coldwell Banker Mason Morse, of Aspen. CEO Brooke Peterson first came to Aspen for the MotherLode in the early ’80s. Fell said he’s in talks with the real estate brokerage on future sponsorship of the event.
Fell said the City Council was perfectly within its rights to deny his request, noting that when a person asks for public money, that individual must follow protocol. He also said he’s very proud that the MotherLode, in its 41 years of its existence, has asked for money from the city only twice.