Yogi Berra, America's greatest ballplayer/philosopher, once said of his favorite bar: "Nobody goes there anymore — it's too crowded."
It makes perfect sense, especially if you've lived here for a while.
Remember when the Manitou Incline was unknown, uncrowded and illegal? For a few dozen aficionados it was workout paradise, an accessible little adventure and a shared semi-secret. But then the word spread, the crowds came, The New York Times wrote about it, and the local booster community came together to legalize, repair and promote a new regional attraction.
Or consider the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Not so many years ago it was a mostly local event, an amazing challenge for recreational runners of all ages and abilities. Anyone could sign up and run — there were no restrictions upon entrants. But the event's fame grew, attracting runners from all over the country and the world. Entrant numbers were capped and qualifying criteria introduced. It's an international event and a substantial revenue-generator during tourist season.
Both Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs owe their existence to 19th-century visionaries who looked with wonder at the beauty of the Pikes Peak region and had but a single thought: How can I make a buck out of this?
They monetized a soggy old cave, a nondescript waterfall and a boulder-strewn mountaintop. They disassembled real cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado, shipped the bricks here and rebuilt them in a more convenient location. They sold clean air and sunshine to tuberculars, built a road and a railway to the mountaintop, and erected hotels and casinos to house and amuse visitors.
That's our DNA. Just as we seized free stuff and privatized it in the 19th century, we expand and monetize small-scale events and attractions in the 21st. If we don't do it, we lose visitors to other cities and our own residents go elsewhere to experience things we don't have here.
Some leakage is unavoidable. We'll never be San Francisco or New York, Hawaii or Paris. We'll never have the Denver Art Museum or a serviceable ski area on the slopes of Pikes Peak. But there's no reason not to have an annual Tour of Colorado Springs (TOCS), a late summer or early fall bike ride around the city.
Start with the simple fact that the region has hordes of riders, yet no accessible, well-organized and fun annual event that would allow them a choice of distances and routes. Such rides are common — the Tour de Tucson attracts many thousands of riders, while Elephant Rock is a popular June event for Castle Rock. There's a June ride in Buena Vista, the Tour de Vineyards on the Western Slope and, in October, the Tour of the Moon, a spectacular ride through the Colorado National Monument.
Creating TOCS would take a dedicated cadre of cyclists to plan, organize and staff it, plus cooperation of regional governments. That's the easy part — but what about funding?
That's the hard part. Inherent biases in the city's distribution of the lodgers and automobile rental tax (LART) make it extremely difficult for a large-scale startup event to qualify for funding. You couldn't have a cycling event without traffic control at major intersections and other costly measures — witness the road closures downtown and in the Garden of the Gods to accommodate the USA Pro Challenge.
Who pays for the pros to race through the city? We do. The city gave the event organizers $10,000 in cash and $50,000 in kind in 2014. That's because it was established, credible and presented a great economic impact pitch. But it's a spectator event, neither controlled nor staffed locally. They're passing us by this year, but maybe they'll be gracious enough to take our money next year ... or the year after.
Suppose we had our own event? Suppose we invested in our own little startup and transformed it into a major regional draw?
That'd be great, but it's not happening.
That's why I spent last weekend riding the Copper Triangle for the third consecutive year with thousands of other recreational cyclists. It's an 80-mile ride over three mountain passes, starting and finishing at Copper Mountain Resort. We spent Friday and Saturday nights at Copper, ate at restaurants, drank at bars and celebrated with friends. That's what you call leakage — money that might have been spent here, but went elsewhere.
Too bad, but we sure had fun!