The issue: Increased tourist numbers mean more wear and tear on our parks and other infrastructure.

Tell us what you think: Send us an email at editorial@csbj.com.

What we think: We need to increase LART to generate funding to sustain and further develop city parks and the arts in our community.

Every year, more than 20 million tourists visit Colorado Springs. They drive on our streets; play in our city’s parks; hike through Garden of the Gods or North Cheyenne Cañon Park. They eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, rent cars and buy souvenirs.

It’s a vital part of our economy, important to local businesses in downtown, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs — but it’s affecting our quality of life. There’s more wear and tear on roads; parks are loved to death; crowds in Garden of the Gods leave trash scattered on trails. Traffic snarls in the summer and finding a parking spot at local hot spots becomes even more difficult.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Residents shouldn’t bear the brunt of cleaning up after tourists, patching potholes, reseeding parks, cleaning up trash. Instead, the tourists should pay to retain the amazing quality of life that brings them here during the summer months — and keeps the rest of us here year-round.

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There’s an easy way to have the tourists pay for themselves: LART, the acronym for the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, paid whenever tourists spend the night in a hotel or rent a car.

Colorado Springs’ LART is ridiculously low — 1 percent for cars and 2 percent for hotel rooms. It’s a paltry sum, given the number of tourists visiting our city, and it’s one of the lowest in the nation. Right now, it’s used to promote tourism through Visit Colorado Springs and for events that put “heads in beds.”

We need the promotion, to keep Colorado Springs at the top of the list for tourists from across the nation and around the world. We need to focus more on shoulder seasons that currently see fewer tourists — spring and fall.

But we need to do more.

If we increase the LART — Mayor John Suthers favors doubling it to 2 percent for cars and 4 percent for hotels — some of that money should go to resurfacing streets, to park infrastructure, to trash pickup, to multimodal transportation options. It should explore new options for convention centers to complement the U.S. Olympic Museum downtown. It should support nonprofits and businesses that not only bring in overnight tourists, but the ones that market inside the state and bring revenue to the city in those less-visited months.

Some cities have other plans for LART. Imagine increasing LART to 6 percent — still lower than Denver’s rate of 10.75 percent — and using that money to improve the arts. It’s what San Francisco does. The city charges 14 percent on hotel stays and 1.5 percent goes to arts and culture. Local leaders are on board with more art spaces around the region.

Imagine Art on the Streets with an infusion of cash; the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region with enough money to expandits mission. Imagine how many more students the Colorado Springs Conservatory could support if it received money from LART. It could change the fabric of our community and assist to promote Colorado Springs both to visitors and companies interested in moving here. All on the tourists’ dime.

Investing in the city — using money from visitors — will create a strong, vibrant city. Imagine smoother roads, fewer traffic jams, a stronger public transit system, sustainable parks, more art, music and theater and cleaner wilderness spaces.

When LART appears on your ballot this fall or next, vote yes — but also lobby for a change in the way it’s distributed. Inviting more people here without the necessary infrastructure investment could mean fewer tourists and a drain on the city’s economic development. Invite tourists — but also invest in the city.

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