This story from KOTO in Telluride was shared with us via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including KHOL.
Over the last several years, many nonprofits in Telluride, Colorado, have seen reductions in lodging opportunities to house the guests and seasonal staff they bring to the region.
Earlier this year, Sage Martin, the executive director of Mountainfilm, had to face a painful surprise. As the annual documentary film festival approached, they realized they would have to pay about $40,000 for lodging they hadn’t budgeted for.
“Because in the history of Mountainfilm we haven’t had to pay for lodging before. So, this was the first time that we had to pay out of pocket in that way of purchasing rooms,” she said.
Historically, all the spots for out-of-town festival guests have been donated. Some of that was local companies providing lodging. That isn’t gone, but it’s dried up a bit.
“They’re still willing to give us rooms but it’s less. Most of them cut it in half,” Martin said.
They also got help from homeowners willing to offer up their space for the festival weekend. But some of those people, Martin explains, have since sold their houses. And Mountainfilm isn’t the only Telluride nonprofit facing lodging challenges for guests they invite.
Ronnie Palamar, executive director of the Sheridan Arts Foundation, which oversees the programming at the Sheridan Opera House, says they’ve had to reduce the number of comedians they bring for their annual comedy festival over President’s Day weekend by about half because of lodging constraints.
“So, that’s been a difficult challenge. What do we do with our comedy fest? Do we continue it? Do we change a weekend to another weekend?”
Telluride Theatre has also seen challenges. Sasha Cuccinello, the group’s artistic director, explains they try to bring in out-of-town artists to supplement their local ensemble. That used to be easier.
“We had access to a four-bedroom condo in the Village, we had access to two houses in town, we had access to people’s housing in their houses. And as things have sort of squeezed down in the last four years, three years, those have just gone away,” said Cuccinello.
On top of the departure of old homeowners who used to offer up their spaces, there’s also been a change in some of the people buying up those properties. Larry Mallard is the CEO and one of the owners of the rental company Alpine Lodging. Their contracts used to require owners of the homes they manage to give six nights a year Alpine could allocate to local organizations. A lot of those owners were second homeowners who spent time in the community and understood the benefit of that. But that has changed, Mallard says.
“There are folks that are simply buying these units just to rent them. And what that means is it’s now a cash proposition for them, and they need to make a return on it. And they may not live in the community. They may not really know much about the community. So, it’s a very difficult discussion when you say, ‘Hey I need to give two night to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival or the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, because we like to support that festival.’ It’s really difficult for them to bypass a high rate for a couple of nights to support the community,” he said.
Mallard says as they’ve redone their contracts over the last two years, Alpine has had to reduce the number of nights they give away from six to three. “We were just getting so much pushback on the six nights,” he said.
This nonprofit lodging challenge is another layer of the housing crisis familiar to most people in Telluride and other mountain areas. Many local nonprofits bring in people to share their talents with the community for a few days, weeks or months. Finding lodging for those short-term visitors has become enough of an issue that several Telluride nonprofits, including Mountainfilm, Telluride Theatre, Telluride Academy, the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, the Ah Haa School for the Arts, the Telluride Film Festival and several others, have come together to raise awareness about it.
“Our community is changing, and people who are living here now are coming from New York and L.A. and from these bigger cities and from these cosmopolitan areas. They want world-class work. They want world-class music. They want to have access to amazing movies and art and theater, and we want to be able to provide that. The only way we can provide that is with this lodging help,” said Cuccinello of the Sheridan Arts Foundation.
Education is another big piece of their strategy, said Martin of Mountainfilm.
“There’s a lot of new folks that have moved to town, and I don’t know that they necessarily know that we’re experiencing this challenge,” she said.
Mallard wonders if local governments could offer incentives to rent to nonprofits. “If you discount 50% for these festivals, you get X amount off of your, and again I’m making this up, but you get X amount off of your short-term rental permit renewal. You know, that kind of thing.”
Larry Rosen has thought about legislation requiring lodgers to help local organizations. He’s the interim executive director of Telluride Academy. The summer camp recently bought property outside Telluride to alleviate some of its challenges finding lodging for seasonal staff.
“Maybe an example could be for every 30 days of lodging that you provide, you have to give one or two days to this nonprofit or business collaborative lodging pool,” Rosen said.
Whatever the solution, everyone seems to agree on the importance of Telluride’s nonprofits and the programming they provide.
“It really enhances our community to have all of these events. And I think that’s also what makes Telluride really attractive,” Martin said.
“I really believe that these nonprofits that are a part of this consortium are the fabric of Telluride,” Cuccinello added.
“I’m not sure that everybody understands the value that these festivals, and just as importantly the nonprofits, mean to the community,” offered Mallard.
Over at Mountainfilm, Martin said she hopes raising awareness will help with the nonprofits’ lodging challenges. But, in planning for next year’s festival, she says her organization is also thinking of ways to draw on the local community more, in order to bring in fewer out-of-town guests.