Owens approves tourism spending

DENVER - Every $1 spent on promoting Colorado brings in more than $12 in new tourism spending, according to industry leaders - a good investment under any circumstance.

Many are excited about a bill signed by Gov. Bill Owens on Monday that will pour $19 million into marketing Colorado's mountains and tourist attractions to the rest of the nation and world.

They see it as a potential $228 million boost to the state's economy.

'When the state is going to have a $19 million tourism promotion fund, you can expect to see Colorado go from 23rd in the nation in terms of number of visitors back up to 15th, where we
were 15 years ago,' said Terry Sullivan, president of Experience Colorado Springs. 'The more people that come to Colorado, the more people that come to Colorado Springs.'

The tourism industry in Colorado is a $7 billion-a-year endeavor, drawing more than 26 million visitors annually. El Paso County's share is about 6 million visitors a year and $1.2 billion in revenues.

Colorado used to tax lodging, restaurants, rental cars and ski-lift tickets and funnel the money, as much as $13 mil- lion a year, to tourism promotion.

Voters repealed that tax in 1993. Since then, Colorado's share of the national tourism market dropped. Though it has rebounded in recent years — the last ski season was one of the best ever — lawmakers want to do more.

Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland, was one of the chief sponsors of HB1201. He said it will help 'diversify the economy, increase jobs and local tax revenue, while insulating the state from the impacts of future downturns.'

Money for the tourism promotion package will come from gambling revenues that otherwise would have gone into the state's general fund.

'This new law recognizes tourism as an economic engine and one of Colorado's largest industries,' said Rob Le-Vine, a member of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and general manager of Antlers at Vail. 'Rather than a lodging tax or an increase in income taxes, tourism funding will come from legal, controlled and voluntary limited-stakes gaming.'

In addition to the tourism money, HB1201 also spends $1.5 million on the arts. It will help programs such as the historic Creede Repertory Theatre in southern Colorado.

'We are very grateful,' said Maurice LaMee, executive and artistic director for the theater. 'It will make a profound difference in our community.'

The tourism bill was one of six bills signed by Owens, worth $26.5 million, aimed at spurring economic development in a wide variety of fields.

'Government can't make jobs,' Owens said. 'But we can create the conditions for job growth by making our state more attractive to entrepreneurs.'

He signed House Bill 1017, which sets aside $3 million in financial incentives for companies that create new jobs in Colorado. Administered by the state's Economic Development Commission, it will spread the money between urban and rural areas.

House Bill 1260 makes $2 million available to fund bioscience research, and House Bill 1384 spends $550,000 on repaying debt racked up by the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo following the construction of a new events center.

Reprinted with permission from The Gazette.
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