Creating a Sustainable Tourist Economy beyond the Peak Season

Creating a Sustainable Tourist Economy beyond the Peak Season

Michael K. Yerman, Former Town of Salida, Community Development Director
Most mountain destination towns in Colorado experience the classic off-season from the end of April till early June and again from Labor Day until the snow begins falling and filling up the slopes. Off-season is often the time when locals can find a parking space downtown and a great deal on dinner. Yet all too often, the local government coffers begin to run low and a bad snow or fire season could lead to nasty budget discussions in the coming year.

Creating a tourist destination in Colorado is no simple task, however, it is one many communities have mastered. The real question is how to sustain the local economy during the off-season.
For Salida, there were several key projects that cemented the City as a year-round destination. The Salida Whitewater Park was a project that began as a citizen and boater driven project. The project was developed with help from the City, Great Outdoors Colorado and many local organizations that turn a dilapidated riverfront into one of the premier whitewater parks in the United States. The creation of the Whitewater Park even spurred a new business in Recreation Engineering and Planning which is now located along the park’s banks and employs locals year round for construction of these parks across the Country.

The Salida Mountain Trail system that surrounds the City is another great example of a year-round amenity built in recent years that attracts Tourist when most of the other mountains are covered in snow. Taking advantage of Salida’s banana belt location the Trail behind S Mountain stay open well into the winter allowing visitors to bike, hike, or run when there is an extended lapse in powder days.
The creation of the SteamPlant Event Center in 2008 was another community based project which allowed for the adaptive reuse of riverfront property. The SteamPlant has become the artistic and cultural hub of Salida’s recently designated Creative District. Throughout the year this facility hosts a myriad of family and youth events from concerts to theatrical productions. In conjunction with the efforts Colorado Creative Industries, the Salida Creative District is flourishing and attracting visitors throughout the off-season to the numerous shops and businesses located in the historic core.

Along the same time as the SteamPlant completion, property owners both along the US 50 Highway corridor and in the historic downtown took a proactive role in restoring and maintaining their properties. While the City Planner may have walked along the street with a clipboard enforcing the property maintenance provisions of the International Building Codes, it was the locals, with a bit of elbow grease, which decided to create a destination and a sense of place.

It is important to look to your locals to add the flavor and atmosphere that creates a unique visitor experience that is hard to find. Odds are these businesses already exist in your community; the local brewery watering hole, the metal worker on the corner with funky art that may be construed as a yearlong yard sale by your code enforcement officer, the galleries and artists who restored the once vacant store fronts, or the entrepreneur who wants to build custom raft parts. Whatever the case, as a planner, it’s your job to help these local entrepreneurs navigate your city’s zoning and building codes. Remember when staring across the counter at the next person with a new business idea that not all CEO’s wear suits and ties. In fact, most that I have encountered in the mountains are wearing flip flops and board shorts and have ideas that are not contemplated by our building or zoning codes.

Helping these local businesses open and marketing them collectively will sustain you through the off-season lows by exporting their talents across state and country. The creation of the Salida Creative District with over 30 businesses contributing to its vitality was not done overnight. It was formed over the years by creating an “open for business” environment and a place where business owners wanted to work, recreate, and raise families. While many of the businesses still rely on a good summer to sustain themselves, the visitors are now coming for long weekends during the off-season to recreate and shop the diversity of goods and services offered by the locals.



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