WESTERN SAN JUANS – While progress has been made in closing the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization’s funding gap needed to sign airline contracts for the upcoming winter season, funding is still needed in the short term as the organization begins the process of finding long-term funding solutions.
TMRAO has secured over $360,000 in pledges from the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, the City of Montrose, and a host of small businesses and banks in the Telluride region. But this is still well short of the $500,000 goal the organization needs to secure airline contracts for the upcoming winter ski season.
With the winter season on the horizon, TMRAO is planning meetings with many business groups in the region. A solicitation mailing was recently sent to smaller businesses in Montrose, Mountain Village and Telluride.
The organization has already faced resistance from lodging and restaurant operators, who currently fund the program in the form of a two percent excise tax on sales. So the question is: Will other businesses be willing and able to make substantial pledges?
Many businesses that support TMRAO are sending out letters to other area businesses, encouraging them to support the Air Organization due to the value it brings to the region. In the meantime, TMRAO will continue its educational program and efforts to secure private business donations in the Telluride and Montrose region to secure the airline guarantee program.
“We are doing about eight to 10 presentations in Montrose to educate businesses on what this program is and why we need to keep it going,” TMRAO President Scott Steward said. “Then we will be holding a bigger meeting for businesses sometime in September.
“This program is really about economic development. It brings visiting guests with a lot of dollars in their pockets to all of the communities from Montrose to Ouray to Telluride.”
TMRAO is giving presentations to describe the current situation in which an enormous increase in gas prices has created a “new normal” for airlines. This increase raises the cost of guaranteeing flights and is therefore the catalyst for the funding needed.
The payout to airlines has grown dramatically in the last couple of years while income, mostly generated by the excise tax in Telluride and Mountain Village and annual contributions from the City of Montrose, has stayed flat at about $2.3 million a year. Costs now exceed revenues, and unless something is done, TMRAO’s reserve will soon be depleted.
The options are to reduce expenses and sharply cut air service to the region, raise additional funds to sustain existing levels of service, or raise some additional funds and reduce some level of service. For this year, the air organization is pursuing the third option of raising more money and reducing services. Steward emphasized the notion that while the program focuses on bringing tourism dollars to the region during the ski season in Telluride, the program can still be beneficial to the entire region.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has estimated the total economic activity impact to the region from air service to the Telluride and Montrose airports is over $470 million annually.
“When people are spending money and enjoying themselves, it helps create jobs, which creates spending. The program really helps drive the overall economy of the region,” Steward said.
Steward went on to say that while the organization is doing what it can in the short term to raise funds for the upcoming season, a long-term solution is still needed.
“We need to realign our funding mechanism so that it meets the new normal,” he said.
Businesses who have pledged support to TMRAO include: Colorado State Bank & Trust, Community Banks of Colorado, Cosmopolitan restaurant, Franz Klammer Lodge, Hot Water Productions, Hotel Columbia, Hotel Madeline, Inn at Lost Creek, La Cocina de Luz, La Piazza, Mountain Lodge Telluride, New Sheridan Chop House, Osborne Builders, Peaks Resort & Spa, Poachers Pub, Ristorante Rustico, Stephanie L. Fanos, Telluride Alpine Lodging, Telluride Bistro, Telluride Real Estate Corp, Telluride Express, Hotel Telluride, Mountain Side Inn, The River Club, Tommy Hein Architect, US Bank, Nevasca Realty, Peaks Real Estate, Telluride Real Estate Brokers, Telluride Real Estate Corp, and the Harvey Team.
“We are happy with the support of the community and businesses,” Steward said. “We still have a ways to go to sustain this essential program, so the board of directors and myself are working hard.”
For more information on TMRAO visit flytelluridemontrose.com.