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High Country summer keeps sizzlin’

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
High Country Business Review
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
ALL |

This Fourth of July, the town of Breckenridge hopes to market the holiday as a 10-day celebration, since it falls on a Wednesday, town spokesperson Kim DiLallo said.

Breckenridge’s Fourth of July push is just one of the many examples of the mindset business-oriented locals have adopted: For more than a decade, Summit County and the Vail Valley have worked to create a thriving summer tourist season. And it has worked.



Frisco has marketed the summer season for the past 19 years, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that it saw an increase in tax and lodging revenue, said town spokesperson Linda Lichtendahl. Since 1998, the town’s summer sales tax revenue has fluxuated between approximately $1.2 million and $1.4 million.

Frisco focuses on events that attract lodging customers, and a study has shown that many visitors come back year after year for the same event, Lichtendahl said. The town’s new goal involves attracting outside events, such as the Howard Alan art show, where producers actually rent part of Main Street, contributing to the town’s revenue before any sales take place.



“We have the street and the infrastructure, but we want outside organizers to bear the cost of the event ” we’ll help them for three to five years, then (hope) they become stand alone events,” she said.

Summer business didn’t just happen; it took a concentrated effort between merchants, towns, chambers and other organizations.

The Breckenridge Resort Chamber played a significant role in bringing summer visitors to town. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the BRC began marketing summer to winter guests while they were in town to ski. Ambassadors wore “Ask Me About Summer” buttons, while newspaper and radio ads touted the towns. With the Internet still in its early years, those marketing Breckenridge knew it would be cheaper to market to people while they were in Summit, DiLallo said.



Meanwhile, the town decided to focus on recreation and the arts. The Riverwalk Center opened in the early 1990s, strengthening the perception that “there’s a lot going on here,” she said. The Breckenridge Golf Course opened in 1985 with 18 holes, expanding to 27 holes in 2001.

“It took a while to come of age, but a number of people started to see the opportunity,” DiLallo said. “The rec center opened in 1990. The Riverwalk Center, the golf course, the ice rink ” they’re all marketing tools.”

In Vail, the Ford Amphitheatre acted as a marketing tool as well, when it opened in 1987 with 12 shows. This year, it hosts 74. The BRAVO! music festival also began in 1987, and the Vail International Dance Festival followed a year later.

“Those three things have been an unbelievable influx of changing how the summer guest looks at Vail,” said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “It really just became a concentrated effort in the late ’80s and reached a high point (of focus) between 1988 and 1993.”

In 1999, voters passed a 1.4 percent lodging tax to market Vail between May and October. Since then, revenue has increased at a steady pace, to $1.9 million, said Kelli McDonald, economic development manager for the town of Vail.

“We’ve seen more businesses remaining open in between seasons. There’s more business coming in May. Prior to marketing, we didn’t see it,” McDonald said, adding that the effort focuses not only on drawing individuals, but also groups.

The town has a separate budget of $750,000 for event seed money, from the Teva Mountain Games to the Fourth of July parade and Oktoberfest.

“The towns have evolved into being event friendly,” said Laurie Asmussen, a Vail-baesd event coordinator. “They’ve made it user-friendly, with permitting and processes in place ” signs, infrastructure, making it comfortable for the guest … as an event promoter, I pounce on that support.”

Towns throughout the Vail Valley and Summit County strive to present different types of events, from arts and music to athletics, in order to attract the maximum number of people. This summer, Breckenridge is tapping into the growing industry of “heritage tourism,” with Kingdom Days. In two years, the town will celebrate its 150-year birthday, so it’s going to build up to a big bash, starting now.

“One of the elements of why Breckenridge is so successful, why people are drawn here is because it has its deep roots,” DiLallo said. “People feel those roots.”

The town has put a lot of effort into developing and promoting its history, while at the same time remaining progressive in projects such as the Arts District. DiLallo said the diversity of events and draws is one of the major reasons summer is so strong in Breckenridge.

“Each one brings a different type of person,” said Chuck Struve, owner of two retail stores in Breckenridge and two in Vail. “It’s exposure for the town.”

Carol Craig, an event organizer in Summit County for the past 13 years, agrees that the summer events have created more energy in towns, and therefore more customers for businesses.

While Breckenridge wants to continue to grow its cultural and recreational summer events, it doesn’t seem to have “Aspen envy.” Instead, it has taken what worked for Vail and Aspen, as far as events, and learned from downfalls, such as housing prices that soar beyond Summit County prices.

“Breckenridge started as a mining town, and there is something about that spirit ” it’s not a privileged spirit,” DiLallo said. “There are common Joes, yet they have a spirit of wanting to make things better.”

Breckenridge has a history of an entrepreneurial spirit, where an individual or group introduced their passion and created events around it. For example, DiLallo came with a love for jazz, and now the Genuine Jazz Festival celebrates its 23rd year.

“It was much more of a grassroots (effort),” she said. “Merchants said, ‘I can do this, you do that …’ and the (chamber) did the marketing and PR. There were a lot of entities working together.”

The Breckenridge Film Festival began the same way, with a grassroots passion for film.

Town taxes, ski resort budgets or grassroots groups are options to fund events, and each has its challenges and benefits. For example, it’s easier to develop new events when a corporation or resort such as Copper Mountain or Keystone Resort backs it financially, DiLallo said.

“They have money to throw at events,” she said. “While it was really refreshing to have that money, what you lose is that entrepreneurial spirit ” people with connections with passion.

“Sometimes its not measurable. It’s the feeling you get when you go to the festival.”


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