RIO GRANDE COUNTY — The meeting room at the Rio Grande County courthouse was full to the brim on Wednesday, March 31, with representatives from several agricultural organizations and members of the Friends of Ski Hi who are actively working to build an event center in Monte Vista.
For over a year, the Friends of Ski Hi with the help of donations, fundraisers, grants and a one-percent tax increase for the City of Monte Vista have started work on the massive structure located on Sherman Avenue in Monte Vista.
In December of 2019, while plans for the event center were still underway the Friends of Ski Hi approached the Rio Grande County Commissioners and requested a donation from the county’s conservation trust fund to help with costs associated with the project. The money was eventually donated in the amount of $150,000 after the commissioners at the time tabled the decision pending further research to make sure that the project fit the guidelines of the conservation trust fund.
Project headliner and former Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver opened the discussion with commissioners on March 31 with a presentation to show the board what has been completed so far on the event center. The old building at the rodeo grounds was demolished in July of 2020 and construction began immediately after debris was cleared from the site.
Shriver included a number of facts chosen specifically to show the economic impacts events that happen throughout the year like the annual Agricultural Conference, the Crane Festival and Stampede at the location of the new event center and how much money those events draw into each community. Shriver provided graphs and other material that showed increases in revenue both in sales tax as well as lodging tax when an event takes place in the Valley.
Shriver introduced Friends of the San Luis Valley Wildlife Conservation member Deb Callahan who spoke about the impacts the annual Monte Vista Crane Festival has on the local economy each year and how the new event center would be a huge benefit to the Valley once it was finished.
“A group called Colorado open lands approached us and wanted to do an economic study of the Crane Festival because they are interested in doing and already have several conservation easements here in the San Luis Valley that are focused on providing habitat for the Sandhill Cranes,” explained Callahan. “Ski Hi is very important to the Crane Festival. We have information booths, vendors, the arts and craft fair as well as in the back we have all the public land folks who are talking to the visitors about all the things they can do while they are here.”
Callahan explained how the festival continues to enrich all of the communities in the San Luis Valley from South Fork to Alamosa and pointed out where most of the money is generated, specifically in hotels. It was after this presentation that each organization representative voiced support for the project and Shriver made a request to the county to donate $100,000 in additional funds to help with costs.
Commissioners tabled a decision until the next regular meeting in April, pending a request for additional information about other funding related to COVID-19 with a potential to find additional funding.