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Tiny House Jamboree outgrows Colorado Springs

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Tiny House Nation's Zack Giffin, at 2015's Jamboree. - FRIEDA BAKKER
  • Frieda Bakker
  • Tiny House Nation's Zack Giffin, at 2015's Jamboree.

National Tiny House Jamboree organizers announced last week that the popular event, launched in 2015, won't be held here again in August, as scheduled. Instead, it will now take place from Oct. 27 to 29 in Arlington, Texas.

"As this movement and industry continue to explode, it is clear our grassroots event was getting too big for Colorado Springs, the venue, or our Jamboree group to handle alone," reads part of an initial explanation letter posted online.

Jamboree founder Darin Zaruba, also president of the local tiny builder EcoCabins, later updated to say he's joined forces with Reed Exhibitions, which boasts of producing more than 500 events in 30 countries, attracting 7 million people in 2016.

By phone, Zaruba added that with attendance estimated at over 40,000 in 2015 and 60,000 in 2016, the Air Force Academy was "no longer conducive" to staging the Jamboree, and that he was also in need of indoor space for expanding programming and exhibitions. Reed hopes to draw upwards of 100,000 people to adequately equipped Arlington Convention Center this fall.

Losing the event represents a significant loss of local revenue for the Springs, but it's not clear how much. Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the Jamboree wasn't tracked by his office for economic impact. A busy Jamboree staff didn't manage to do a concurrent impact study either, says Zaruba, noting "hotels were booked solid" both years while businesses up north were "swamped." He says he was warned that if traffic backed up on Interstate 25 like it did in 2015, he'd be shut down. He projects $1 million to $2 million of impact on the low end, up to $5 million.

That said, not everyone in the Springs welcomed tiny home culture. In 2014, for instance, Zaruba was surprised that one of his EcoCabins models won People's Choice Award at the local Parade of Homes. But equally surprising: The win drew ire from a contingent who he says felt tiny homes didn't belong in the category.

And while the Springs is home to Tumbleweed Tiny Homes, the largest tiny home manufacturer in the U.S., it has failed to become tiny house-friendly on the consumer side. While more progressive cities like Portland are testing programs such as tiny houses for the homeless, the Springs relegates tiny houses to RV parks, with prohibitive building and zoning requirements.

Enthusiasts have leveled the charge that the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department can't (or doesn't wish to) think outside the box of traditional building. Tiny fans also bemoan the fact that city leaders haven't stepped up to champion something like a variance to allow tiny homes.

Zaruba says he has recently been invited to join a newly formed local committee, which includes a Realtor, builders and city code officials, to research the issue. Having conducted real estate business all over the U.S., he calls the Springs "one of the harder places to work," and "very conservative and slow in its approach to change."

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