Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rodeo means business

Local leaders need to pay close attention to the health of events that draw large numbers of people to the Sun Valley area lest they harm the area's economy.

Take the Hailey Rodeo. It's a keystone event that along with the Sun Valley Ice Shows has generated business from visitors for decades.

The rodeo grounds sit on a piece of land on Hailey's Main Street. The city itself owns the property.

Before last fall, bloated real estate values made it appear that the property was underutilized relative to its value on the open market.

That changed with the Panic of 2008—last fall's nationwide economic crash precipitated by a crisis in mortgages and exotic financial investment packages, not to mention outright fraud.

Neither the nation nor the Sun Valley area has sorted out all that has changed, but it's certain that land values will once again become tied strongly to the real and ongoing income they produce.

Hailey is reviewing a plan to retain the rodeo arena while opening the property to other uses. Rodeo organizers, all volunteers, are criticizing the plan and claiming that it could jeopardize the rodeo.

Not only would that be a shame in terms of Western heritage, it could seriously damage one of the biggest business weeks of the summer in the entire Sun Valley area.

Unlike ice hockey for kids or even an expanded skate park, the rodeo attracts thousands of people and generates serious income for the entire valley.

No one should take that for granted.

Everything changed last fall, and it's imperative that city leaders base new decisions on the new economic realities—not on some misguided dream that the old economy will return.

They must remember that the Sun Valley area's amenities—skiing and boarding, golf, tennis, swimming, arts and events of all kinds, great food—exist because of money spent by visitors to the area.

The Sun Valley area has seen fully half of its economy devastated by the crash in real estate and construction.

Even so, visitors are still generating a substantial amount of business.

No one expects the boom in construction of second homes to come back any time soon. That means the Sun Valley area must look to tourism as the economic generator that will get it through to better days.

No one in local government or business can afford to make decisions for the future based on the faulty assumptions of the past. The Sun Valley area simply can't afford to erode tourism or to bank on old bets gone bust.

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