Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Realtors contribute to air service

Agents donate commissions for MRGs

Express Staff Writer

Dick Fenton

Though home and property sales aren’t subject to local-option taxes, real estate agents in Blaine County have found their own way to contribute to the air service cause.

Blaine County residents will be asked to vote next month on whether the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey should levy an additional 1 percent local-option tax to help support minimum revenue guarantees, which are funds promised to airlines in order to encourage them to fly into risky seasonal resort markets. 

The guarantees are currently funded by Sun Valley Co.

But that’s not the case in other resort markets. Sun Valley Board of Realtors President Jed Gray said last week that as a member of the Western Mountain Resort Alliance, he has seen how cities such as Jackson Hole, Steamboat Springs and Telluride raise funding for their MRGs.

“Here we have been on a one-show program where [MRG funding] has been on the resort operator,” Gray said.

In other areas, he said, MRGs are funded through a three-tiered program of local government support, local business support and resort operator funding. Steamboat Springs in Colorado and Jackson Hole in Wyoming both raise MRGs through such a combination. 

Gray said this method gives those destinations an advantage when gaining commercial air service and, as a result, more visitors. Steamboat Springs has nonstop service to six cities and Jackson Hole has nonstop service to eight.

“We’re way behind the curve,” Gray said. “We have to do something if we want to improve local conditions.”

Gray, along with the Sun Valley Board of Realtors, developed a program called Realtors for Air that has real estate agents commit 1 percent of gross commissions to Fly Sun Valley Alliance to be used for MRGs and marketing.

“It’s a penny on the dollar,” Gray said, which real estate agents can pledge either up front in anticipation of future commissions or which they can pay through the year.

Carol Waller, president of Fly Sun Valley Alliance, said the program started when real estate agents decided they wanted to support local-option tax for air service—but realized that real estate would not be affected by the tax increase.

“They kind of took the bull by the horns and created a program that does not exist anywhere else,” she said.

So far, $55,000 has been pledged to the program in commitments and in up-front cash, Gray said.

Agents from Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties, John Alan Partners, The Kirk Group, McCann Daech Fenton Realtors, Paul Kenny and Matt Bogue Commercial Real Estate, River Run Realty, Sun Valley Associates, Sun Valley Brokers, Sun Valley Real Estate, Sun Valley Sotheby’s International Realty and Windermere Real Estate have all committed to the program so far.

Dick Fenton, a member of the Fly Sun Valley Alliance board and partner in McCann Daech Fenton Realtors, said the Sun Valley Board of Realtors will be going around to smaller real estate offices to obtain commitments from those agents as well.

“We’re just in the process of trying to round up as many [participants] as we can,” he said.

Fenton said the program has raised $5,000 more than its goal already, and he expects the total annual figure to be higher than budgeted, as many real estate agents may have budgeted conservatively.

Gray said that in return for committing to the program, real estate agents are essentially given 50 cents for every dollar committed in credit for certain items at Sun Valley Resort. The items include gondola rides, rounds of golf at White Clouds Golf Course and ice show tickets, but Gray said agents are doing it because they believe the program will bring more visitors to Sun Valley, not for the perks.

“The real value of this is customers,” he said. “If we have improved air service, particularly with different destinations, we’d have the opportunity to create customers.”

Gray and Fenton said the ultimate goal, apart from getting all real estate agents in the valley to participate in the program, is to encourage the larger business and lodging communities to get involved in supporting funding minimum revenue guarantees.

“I don’t know that it’s going to raise a huge amount of money, but it’s the first time the business community has stepped up and agreed to contribute out of their own pockets,” Fenton said.  “Collectively, the [entire] business community could make a pretty good dent.”

Gray said that though he has neither the time nor the capability to organize other parts of the larger business community, he does hope leaders in those sectors follow his example.

“Every single business in town has the opportunity to invest in their future with a program like this,” he said. “We need customers, we have businesses struggling and it’s time to get out of our chairs and do something.” 

Kate Wutz:

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