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The Gunnison County experience

In Gunnison County, where the Crested Butte ski area is located, the community had to be convinced before it agreed to provide air-service guarantees.

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John Devore, CEO of Gunnison County Airport, tells how it came about.

"Up until four years ago the (Crested Butte) ski company managed the commercial air service during the ski season; so they did the contracts with the air carriers. Then they fell on financial hard times… and they had an 11-year contract with American Airlines to fly here with no revenue guarantee. So when that 11-year contract came and went American Airlines said they would never see another contract like that again and rode off into the sunset," Devore recalls.

"So the community went through two or three years of debate on what to do about commercial air service, because a portion of the community thought that because we had an airport, airlines would fly. We tried to explain to them that today’s world is totally different and that took a couple of years. But in 2002 community leaders and business leaders met and we talked about getting in control of our own destiny."

The airport is owned by the county. Commercial carriers make lease payments for space within the terminal, pay landing fees and a fee for in-plane passengers. There is also income from leases within the airport terminal, including restaurant concessions, rental cars and ground transportation. But it all starts with aircraft carrying passengers to the airport.

"The feeling was that we wanted to create something that would generate a tax source that would provide the revenue to be able to go out and negotiate contracts with air carriers," said Devore.

It began with a retreat organized by the board of county commissioners in February 2002.

"And we were talking about the local economy in general and the information that we were getting back from a variety of sources was that we did not have enough money to market ourselves and that for an air service we were not going to be competitive," said Devore.

"And that year the ski company was also for sale so the commissioners decided that they would take the initiative and convene the community meeting to talk about the future at Gunnison County, and more specifically what we were going to do about air service and marketing."

The retreat led to two initiatives presented to voters later that year.

"We did two things; we put an initiative on the ballot called a rule for a transportation authority, which is a rule allowable under the Colorado statute and sales-tax funded. And then we put a second initiative on the ballot from the marketing district to increase the lodging tax, so we could market the program. And both of those initiatives passed in November 2002 by over 70 per cent.

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