The Tour of Missouri is not dead, but the event is on life support and running out of time.
State legislators and race officials held a press conference Friday morning to address the Tour’s future in light of continued political wrangling between the governor’s office and the state legislature.
The legislature this week finalized its 2010 budget and, according to Tour of Missouri chairman Mike Weiss, it included a $1 million appropriation for the race. Like many states, Missouri’s constitution grants the governor line-item veto power. Governor Jay Nixon has yet to act on the budget, neither he nor the state’s Division of Tourism have signed on to support the event. Without a private title sponsor, the race relies on the state government’s support and officials confirmed that without the appropriation, the race’s fourth edition will face inevitable cancellation.
Weiss pointed to what he described as an unmatched return on investment in the race and urged the governor’s office to open a dialogue with race supporters and appropriations committee leadership.
“We think we have a tool here which really can give us a competitive advantage,” he said. “We would at least like (the Division of Tourism) to look at the Tour of Missouri as an event and compare it against other programs that Tourism has going and say, ‘Let’s make a business decision here. Which programs are really giving a great yield?’ We sort of are emotionally attached, but we also are pragmatic. We have not been able to have that type of dialogue and we’ve been fighting hard to get there.”
According to Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Kurt Schaefer, the event’s reach is unmatched by any in the state, particularly for the relatively low investment required.
“You get almost a 4:1 return on investment on an event like this and you get that in a broad range of communities from very urban areas to rural areas in Phelps County and others,” he said. “From Tourism’s budget, I don’t know that I’ve seen anything that shows that any other one item that Tourism spends money on returns an investment this great and can be articulated that clearly.”
Schaefer also confirmed that the Senate Appropriations Committee has received more positive email feedback on the Tour of Missouri in the 2010 budget cycle than any other single program.
Medalist Sports, the events company behind the tours of California, Georgia and Missouri, last week set a deadline of May 7 for the state to support the event before they pull resources away for other projects.
Managing partner Chris Aronhalt stopped short of announcing cancellation Friday and urged the tourism board and Governor Nixon to work toward finding common ground for moving the race forward.
“Obviously, we would welcome it if the news were positive in the next few weeks. By all means, we would jump back into the trenches. From a planning perspective, the time is now,” said Aronhalt. “We’re all about solutions and that is all we are asking for, is how to work toward the common good on behalf of the state and identify the solution.”
While supporters of the event have for months been in contact with officials to voice their backing of the race, according to Representative Tom McDonald, with the budget finalized, now is the most important time for those voices to be heard.
“The time to address line item issues is just underway,” he said. “I think it’s now time to be forthcoming and speak up to the Division of Tourism. It’s just now becoming appropriate to say, ‘Don’t forget about us.’”
If the appropriated funds are approved by the Division of Tourism and the governor, Aronhalt said that organizers have the other pieces in place for the event to roll out as scheduled.
“Though it’s not at the seven-figure mark, we do have sponsors that are ready to get involved and we do have cities that want to welcome the tour and we do have athletes and teams,” he said. “As an example, George Hincapie called yesterday and asked, ‘What is the status?’ We’re honest with them. Teams are still planning for it unless a decision is rendered by the Tour of Missouri board to cancel the event.”