Glenwood may consider hiring economic development director
December 5, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – It may be time for the city of Glenwood Springs to actively pursue economic development by hiring a person to oversee such efforts.
Several City Council members were open to the idea during a broad discussion on strategies to attract new businesses to Glenwood Springs during the Dec. 1 council meeting.
“In the past, we have allowed economic development to come to us, instead of going after it,” Councilman Mike Gamba said. “The economic times we’re in now have relegated that thinking to the dust bin.”
Groups like the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. have reached out to Glenwood Springs. But it may be best for the city to partner with the Glenwood Chamber and the Downtown Development Authority for a more local effort, he said.
“We need to get in the ball game, or we will be losing businesses,” Gamba said. “Our businesses are what allow us to have all the things we want and need in this city … paved streets, electricity, treated water and sewer, maybe a performing arts center, bike paths.
“All those come only because we have businesses employing people here, and people buying goods and services here,” he said.
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Gamba proposed having a forum with business groups after the first of the year to talk about creating an economic development director position within the city.
Councilman Todd Leahy noted that the city organized an economic development council several years ago after the Rifle Super Wal-Mart opened, and Glenwood Springs saw a big decrease in sales taxes.
The Glenwood Meadows development brought Target, Lowe’s and several other national chains to Glenwood Springs, which helped stabilize things. But the city has seen another $3 million drop in sales taxes since 2006, partly as a result of the recession, Leahy said.
“We need to do a better job of creating an environment where businesses want to be here,” he said. “But, until somebody shows up to do the work, it’s just us up here talking.”
Leahy offered to gather job descriptions for economic development directors from other cities and organizations.
During a less-formal work session at the Dec. 1 meeting, the council also discussed a possible ballot question at some point proposing a special tax on tourist attractions.
Again, it’s a conversation that needs to involve the local business community before proceeding, council members agreed.
“I don’t think this goes anywhere without the support of the business community,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Matt Steckler said. “The political hurdles are very high.”
The idea would be to ask city voters for an attractions tax, similar to the existing accommodations tax, which could help fund tourism promotion, and possibly some specific new amenities.
“I have talked to a few people who feel we should have an attractions tax,” Councilman Leo McKinney said. “But we’re talking generalities now. We need some specific ideas.”
Currently, the city’s 2.5 percent accommodations (lodging) tax is used to fund tourism promotion through a contract with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
However, there is no similar tax on attractions such as the Hot Springs Pool, rafting and other guided tours. Things like miniature golf courses and movie theater tickets are also untaxed.
Some of the more popular attractions are also located outside city limits, such as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Sunlight Mountain Resort. Any participation by those businesses would have to be voluntary.
John Bosco from the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool urged caution, and noted that a similar attractions tax proposal in the city several years ago failed.
“We do know with the pool fee that there is a price point where people are not willing to pay,” Bosco said at the meeting. An attractions tax would only add to that cost, he said.
But there’s also a fairness question, former city councilman Russ Arensman said.
“This would be a way to carve out a sub-segment that’s not currently paying,” he said in support of such a tax.
Councilman Mike Gamba said he would oppose any such tax.
“I’d rather we just drop it,” he said of council spending time on the proposal. “If a citizens group wants to bring it forward, that’s fine.”