St. Louis Beacon: Funding cut may bring Tour of Missouri bicycle race to a screeching halt

Funding cut may bring Tour of Missouri bicycle race to a screeching halt
By Dale Singer
St. Louis Beacon

A big hole in the Missouri budget may derail the Tour of Missouri bicycle race scheduled to begin in St. Louis on Labor Day.

With less than two months to go before the start of the third year of the race across the state, organizers of the event found out this week that the director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development is recommending that $1.5 million be cut from the budget of the Division of Tourism.

That amount, for an event whose overall budget is $3.3 million, would mean the race could not be held, said Chris Aronhalt of Medalist Sports in Atlanta, which manages the event.

"Obviously, it would be devastating," Aronhalt said. "Definitely the race would not occur."
The $1.5 million cut is part of an overall reduction of $9.9 million recommended by Linda Martinez, head of economic development, to Budget Director Linda Luebbering. The final decision is up to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The issue may not be purely financial. Relations between Nixon and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has been the champion of the Tour of Missouri since its inception, have been frosty at best of late.

"They say this is a budgetary issue," said Gary McElyea, a spokesman for Kinder. "We do not think it is.

"If you were to ask me if this is political, I would say it is very likely politically motivated."
Asked about possible political motivation for the cut, Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the governor's office, said: "Of course not."

He explained that departments of state government have been asked to cut where they can to help close the budget gap. Nixon has been given their recommendations and will make the final decisions in the next couple of weeks.

"The governor has held or cut back $430 million this year so we don't end up like states like Illinois and have to raise taxes or cut programs," Cardetti said. "We're doing what Missouri families are doing, tightening our belts so we can afford the things we really need. The governor supports a lot of things that the state is not able to afford right now.

"Of course, it would be easier just to fund everything. That's how you end up like California or Illinois. The governor is taking a very fiscally conservative approach."

Bob Smith, the acting director of the Division of Tourism, said cuts had been identified in his budget, as requested. But, he added, "the tour has never been part of the cuts."

McElyea, of the lieutenant governor's office, said that last year, the bicycle race was the largest sporting event ever in Missouri, drawing more than 400,000 spectators and generating more than $30 million for the state. This year's event, which is scheduled to begin in St. Louis Sept. 7 and end in Kansas City on Sept. 13, is the final race in a three-year commitment made in 2006.
"When you get that kind of a return on an investment," McElyea said, "especially in this tough economic time, that is the kind of investment you want to be making.

"This came as a complete shock to us, but we're going to do everything we can to fight."
Aronhalt said that because of contractual commitments, including meals, sponsorships, hotels and more, if the race is called off the losses that result might be more than the $1.5 million that the state is cutting. He noted that seven teams currently competing in the Tour de France had the Missouri race as their next stop.

"Trying to unravel all those commitments would be very complicated," he said. "All our host cities are extremely concerned and shocked by what has happened."

He said he understands that financial straits that Missouri is in, but he said that money for the bicycle race is an investment that pays, not one that costs.

"Obviously we're respectful to the economic times," Aronhalt said, "but last year we received about a 30-1 return on investment in terms of economic impact and exposure."

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