Chamber meeting reviews community progress

MONTE VISTA- The Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce Board met for their July meeting Thursday, July 30. The board discussed some financial changes and progress on various community improvement projects.

The board discussed several financial matters, including narrowing down their bank accounts to one or two institutions instead of three. One board member mentioned this decision upset a different board member who represents the bank who lost funds and was not informed of the decision prior.

A previous discussion about the split for the proceeds for the Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair was continued, with Jim Clare reporting he discussed the matter with Marvin Reynolds of the Colorado State University Extension Office. The current split of the proceeds for the trade fair booths has 25 percent going to CSU and 75 percent going to the Chamber. Clare stated Reynolds hopes they keep the split as is, as CSU uses the money for the event’s speakers and other necessities. Clare also hoped to clarify the misconception the City of Monte Vista is the beneficiary of the event, which is not true. Rio Grande County Commissioner Gene Glover pointed out Reynolds will be leaving the area within the year and the Chamber should analyze the extension office’s budget with his replacement. Both Clare and City of Monte Vista Public Works Director Rob Vance also pointed out the usage fees for the new Ski-Hi building will likely have to be higher in order to maintain what will be a brand-new building, with Vance pointing out there will also likely “be less leniency” to some of the community groups that use it, so those fees will have to be factored into the final decision as well.

The Chamber reviewed the status of the Swoop of the Cranes project. Chamber Assistant Manager Jennifer Ruiz reported 32 of the Cranes will be purchased by their sponsors, two will be returned to their artists, six artists have declined their Cranes so they can go to auction, five of the crane sponsors have not been contacted yet and two have not made a final decision.

To show their appreciation for their leadership on the Swoop of the Cranes project, the Chamber presented a commemorative book with professional photos of each of the Cranes and information about the project to Ken Hamko, of the Sandhill Inn and Suites who originally came up with the concept for the project and took the lead in making it happen.  One book was also presented to Rob Vance for his department’s ingenuity, efforts and support of the project in affixing them on their light posts. One book will also be at the Chamber of Commerce/Information Center and the Monte Vista Historical Society.

Hamko has also recently joined the Rio Grande County Tourism Board, who among other duties oversees the lodging tax funds to promote the county. Hamko said the tourism board has all new members and is making it their goal to have three members from each of the three municipalities of Monte Vista, Del Norte and South Fork. The county group would also like proposals from each municipality on how they will spend their share of the funds. The Chamber created a group of volunteers to put a plan together which includes Gary Wilkinson, Linda Burnett, Kelly DeSautell and Kyle Riggenbach.

Hamko pointed out the San Luis Valley and Monte Vista are poorly represented on the Colorado Tourism Board’s website, Hamko said there were minimal photos of the town, only two restaurants listed and very few other businesses, despite evidence the website is valuable in bringing in and informing out-of-state and foreign tourists. Hamko sent an email that he hoped would be circulated to the Chamber member businesses clarifying how to sign up for the free listings, and added paid listings would go to the top of the list. He and co-owner of SLVoices, Adam Lock, will be working on rewriting the description of Monte Vista.

Jason Medina with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) gave a report, stating as expected many of the requirements for PPP loans and grants have changed but his office is staying on top of the changes to provide local businesses with the most current information. He also pointed out some of the recent publicity about how the funds were spent by ZIP code, with almost $7.4 million being distributed in Monte Vista, retaining 512 jobs despite the COVID-19 closures and restrictions.

Medina reported the SBDC will also be receiving some additional COVID-19 related funds to use through December 2020, which he hopes to use to create a local business office hosted at the Chamber of Commerce/Information Center, including 5-6 laptops, a printer and other resources for local business owners to stop by and utilize, including signing up as an SBDC client with free business counseling by appointment. Similar offices are planned in La Jara, San Luis and Center.

The SBDC will  be conducting virtual forums and interviews in the coming weeks, and Medina also pointed out Energize Colorado will soon be providing $25 million in capital loans and grants to Colorado businesses with under 25 employees, which is expected to start rolling out in early August. Applicants will also score higher if the businesses are in a rural area and/or are owned by women and/or people of color.

Starting out the event and committee reports, Wanda Hawman stated the Jessie May Olson Memorial Community Garden is still having a successful year, even while observing COVID-19 precautions and social distancing. They are currently in the process of adding a root cellar to the area and have focused on growing more root vegetables because there was a projected shortage nationwide this year. The garden is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, one family at a time, and Friday mornings they are at the Monte Vista Farmers Market selling some garden products.

Wilkinson gave a report on the Friends of Ski-Hi efforts, noting many people assume everything is lined up because the building has been torn down but the organization is still in need of funds. Many grant providers have postponed dates and changed requirements, like the Gates Foundation raising the minimum matching funds commitment from 30 percent to 50 percent. They have also lost over a half-million in informal commitments. They are still making some progress with many smaller grants reaching out to ask the Ski-Hi project to apply with over $800,000 raised from the San Luis Valley alone. Hawman also pointed out the change jars have raised over $1,500 and connected the Friends with an additional larger donation of $2,000. Wilkinson reported Jaime Hurtado with the City Recreation Department is also working on an archiving project for Ski-Hi and welcomes any historical photos.
Vance provided a report on the current master plans the City has in development, including a streets plan and a wastewater plan that is looking at the need for a mechanical wastewater treatment plant at a cost of roughly $17 million.

Wilkinson also discussed the Monte Vista School District’s reopening plan, which was outlined in more detail in last week’s Monte Vista Journal.

Wilkinson stated the district was doing their best to provide an exemplary education to their students, even with a $1.3 million budget cut.


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