The Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board heard a presentation Tuesday, March 14, proposing a new series of mid-winter events aimed at making Moab more of a year-round destination.

Michael O’Brien, owner of Colorado-based event production company Peak Performances, pitched the board on his vision for a Moab Winter Wonderland series beginning in December 2017.

“I think right now people have a perception of Moab, of course, spring and summer,” O’Brien told the board, “but I think there’s an opportunity for Moab to own that winter season, and be top of mind for people in those drive markets and from elsewhere to think of Moab in the winter.”

O’Brien proposed a four-Saturday series of events across late 2017 and early 2018. Each day would include a matinee performance by a “national comedian,” and an evening show by a “national musical touring act.”

The members of the council board reacted enthusiastically to O’Brien’s intention, but expressed skepticism about the potential costs: The proposal asked for $32,000 from the travel council to help fund the first year’s events.

Noting the conservative projections for first-year turnout, board member Colin Fryer suggested that the cost per attendee might be too high for the travel council to take on. O’Brien’s proposal estimated that fewer than 400 out-of-town visitors would show up for the series.

“That works out to about $90 a person,” Fryer said. “It’s hard to make sense out of a budget that you have to pay $90 to get a person to come to your concert.”

“We’re almost paying for the entire cost of them to attend the series,” board chair John Knowles added, comparing Fryer’s $90-per-visitor figure with the proposed price of $120 for all four events.

O’Brien sought to reassure the council, pointing out the benefits to the area beyond ticket purchases.

“Visitors are encouraged to stay overnight and patronize the restaurants,” O’Brien said. A central part of the series’ model, he added, would be the creation of a loyalty card or affinity card for attendees that offered them discounts at local restaurants or businesses to drive spending in town.

And he asked the council to consider the higher first-year cost as “investing in the branding of ‘Moab equals winter'” – an equation that could pay greater dividends long-term.

“A longer-term vision is to expand into other offerings that are also family-friendly – maybe some street buskers or other outdoor elements,” he said. “It’s a new concept in a season where there aren’t people naturally gravitating toward the area.”

He also tried to preemptively ease any concerns about the type of musical acts that might be part of the events.

Star Hall – the proposed venue for all of the performances – “is really suited toward unamplified acoustic acts,” O’Brien said. He said he’d considered primarily singer-songwriters, bluegrass bands and blues musicians, particularly duos or trios.

Board member Howard Trenholme noted that Star Hall could be an attractive venue because of its relative intimacy.

“You feel really close to the musicians,” Trenholme said. Such a setting might be a draw for fans who prefer a close connection to a stadium atmosphere.

Still, the board remained uneasy about the outlay that O’Brien requested.

“This is kind of new territory for us,” Fryer said.

Board member Sarah Sidwell explained after the meeting that the travel council, which must comply with state regulations in the distribution and spending of funds generated by hotel, rental car and restaurant taxes, typically doesn’t provide funding to cover performers’ fees or other core event costs.

“We usually just give grant money for advertising for events,” Sidwell said.

But the council has been searching for ways to promote wintertime visitation, she added, and the type of event O’Brien proposed would fit into that push.

“We have been working for, goodness, probably three, four years to move any kind of spending we do to shoulder-season advertising or off-season advertising,” Sidwell said.

They’ve even been floating ideas for a “winter carnival type thing,” she said – a notion that doesn’t seem too distant from O’Brien’s vision for bolstering comedy shows and musical performances with street-fair elements.

“We’re working with Jodie (Hugentobler) at the Chamber (of Commerce) to try to convince businesses to stay open during that time to try to promote more downtown sales, more of a downtown atmosphere,” Sidwell said.

She said that she is looking forward to reading O’Brien’s proposal – which the board praised for its thoroughness and depth – more closely, and expects to start a conversation with him soon.

Trenholme, after the meeting, described the council’s approach to wintertime events as “filling in the edges of the season” around the typically slow month of January.

“I’m a business owner. I would love for this town to be year-round, personally, because it makes running a business so much easier,” Trenholme said.

Though he liked the idea of a concert series, he, too, was wary about the type of spending O’Brien was asking for.

“We have to be very careful how we spend taxpayer money,” Trenholme said. “All the money is very governed by state laws.”

He noted that providing seed money for new events could be part of the travel council’s mission, but suggested that a better long-term use of funds might be the creation of new venues.

“Think of applying TRT (Transient Room Tax) monies to building an amphitheatre somewhere near here,” he said. “One day you could have a venue here.”

Travel Council’s board agrees wintertime events needed

I think there’s an opportunity for Moab to own that winter season.