Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and in the Pikes Peak region that means more bikers, hikers and outdoor recreation activities. It also translates to added revenue for Colorado Springs and surrounding areas.
“Many of the people who come here for recreational activities and to experience our natural resources are from far enough away that they stay in hotels and eat at our restaurants, and that has a financial impact for the city,” said Karen Palus, the city’s director of parks, recreation and cultural services.
Often, she said, the economic impact is long-lasting.
“A lot of people came here — and stayed here — for the outdoor values we have in our community,” Palus said. “It’s easy to disappear over to the Garden [of the Gods], or Red Rock Canyon or North Cheyenne Cañon and be right outside of town within 10 minutes and feel like you’re 100 miles away from the population. You can work downtown and take your mountain bike for a good half-hour ride at lunch. Not all communities can do that, so we’re real special that way.”
The Springs will be a special destination for thousands of out-of-town guests this summer — fostering an even greater financial impact — because of two much-anticipated events.
The Rocky Mountain State Games will be hosted in late July by the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. for the 16th year. The event has grown steadily and attracted a record 10,314 participants and more than 15,000 spectators in 2016. More than half of the competitors (and their families) spend at least one night in a local hotel, say Sports Corp. officials.
The second event, the inaugural Colorado Classic, is set for August. A variety of fun events surround the professional cyclists’ Aug. 10 stage race — the kickoff leg of the Classic — with the start and finish line at the same spot in downtown Colorado Springs. Plus, NBC Sports will televise the event, providing an even bigger economic boost, officials say.
Sports Corp. President and CEO Tom Osborne, who oversees the Rocky Mountain State Games, estimates it brings $8 million to $10 million in revenue to the region each year.
Osborne, who also worked hard to bring the opening stage of the Colorado Classic to the Springs, agrees with Steve Brunner, president of King of the Mountain Sports Marketing (the event’s promoter) that the Classic will produce as much as $8 million in revenue for the area.
Obviously, summer outdoor recreation in the Pikes Peak region means money — whether it involves pro athletes or amateurs. And that’s perfect for a community now branding itself as Olympic City USA.
Rocky Mountain State Games
Competitors have increased from 2,016 in 2002 to more than 10,000 the past three years. Osborne and his team figure more than 60 percent of those participants and their families stay in a local hotel during the State Games.
“We’ve got more than 25,000 people involved, counting spectators, and they’re spending money and staying all over town,” he said. “They’re competing at 40 different venues, all the way from the Air Force Academy down to Fort Carson. Many are spending multiple nights in town and eating out, so it’s a big economic driver.”
The State Games attract competitors who vary in age from senior citizens to grade-schoolers, so the event often becomes a family vacation if mom and dad are traveling to watch their children participate.
“The beauty of the State Games is it’s an Olympic-style event for all ages and skill levels,” Osborne said. “It’s a perfect fit for our city — Olympic City USA. It’s part of the DNA of our community. And it’s gotten so big, it now takes two different weekends because of the magnitude of the event.”
The Rocky Mountain State Games are scheduled July 21-23 and July 28-30.
Colorado Springs and the Sports Corp. hosted the State Games of America in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
“Those three years had a tremendous economic impact,” Osborne said. “The Rocky Mountain State Games have grown into the same type of economic force and are attracting similar numbers of out-of-state participants.”
Palus, who moved to the Springs from Florida five years ago, said the State Games are a great attraction for out-of-towners.
“I think it’s great visibility for our community as a whole,” she said. “They get to see what Colorado Springs has to offer. They’re using a tremendous number of our [city] venues so they get to see all the different parts of our community. Some really do use this trip as their family vacation and they utilize our different attractions while they’re here.”
The pro cycling event is a new and improved version of USA Pro Challenge, the seven-stage bike race that drowned in financial losses after a five-year run ending in 2015. The Colorado Classic figures to build on what was good about its predecessor.
“I think it will be a bigger economic impact for Colorado Springs than USA Pro Challenge was,” Brunner said.
Osborne said the $8 million estimated economic impact “is conservative and very doable.”
Fort Collins and Vail and Denver initially, vied for the honor of hosting the Classic’s first stage. Breckenridge will host Stage 2 while Denver will host stages 3 and 4.
“Tom was a central driver in this coming to town,” Brunner said of Osborne.
“The bid fee was $150,000 and our total budget is about $500,000,” Osborne said. “The Sports Corp. doesn’t have the wherewithal to do this, but we can run it. We had a lot of key partners: the city, El Paso County, El Pomar Foundation, Nor’wood Development Group, GE Johnson, The Colorado Springs Visitors & Convention Bureau, USA Cycling, the Pikes Peak Cycling Society, Comcast.”
The RPM Events Group, which owns the Classic, is introducing a new approach to bike racing by adding live music, festivals and ancillary events in the host towns, Brunner said.
“There is a lot more involved with this, and it should be wall-to-wall fun,” he said. “If you can’t come early, come later and just enjoy the atmosphere.”
Activities in the Springs kick off Aug. 8 when local cyclists get the opportunity to ride with the Trek-Segafredo team.
“That’s the equivalent of playing basketball with the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Brunner said. “They’re one of the top teams in the world. It costs $198 and you get a jersey worth $100.”
Aug. 9 will feature a press conference and VIP reception and gala, along with team introductions — a rarity — at The Broadmoor hotel.
At 10 a.m. Aug. 10, 72 women will race 120 miles — starting and finishing in front of the U.S. Olympic Committee building in downtown Colorado Springs.
A community mile run — there are divisions for open runners, high school and middle school — starts after the women’s race concludes.
The men’s race, about 350 miles for 96 cyclists, starts at 1:15 p.m. and ends about 4:45 p.m.
Awards ceremonies for the Classic and community mile will follow on Tejon Street, where there will be a live DJ, vendors for running and cycling and music and a kids’ zone. The festival lasts until 10 p.m.
“It’s truly an all-day affair,” Osborne said. “I want to encourage people to come out and see these world-class athletes.
“The great thing is the exposure on NBC Sports.”
Stage 1 will feature 90 minutes of live coverage, including helicopter shots of Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, as well as downtown.
NBC Gold will webcast internationally.
“We’re looking at an audience of 50 [million] to 60 million for that, making it Colorado Springs’ biggest international event,” Brunner said. “An indirect economic impact would grow even more as people see the Springs on TV or on the webcast and want to come here.”
Hosting Stage 1 is important, Osborne said.
“What I love about us hosting the start is some teams will train here before the race to get used to the altitude,” Osborne said. “So they’ll stay in hotels and restaurants, and that’s where we get even more economic benefit.”