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By Steve Frothingham
Will there be a Tour of Missouri in 2010 and beyond?
State funding for the 3-year-old race is in jeopardy as Missouri struggles with shrinking tax revenues, making it increasingly likely that a private title sponsor will have to step in to augment the state tourism board’s support.
“We’d love to get the title sponsor who comes in with the big bucks … ” Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told VeloNews in front of the state Capitol in Jefferson City.
Kinder, a Republican, has been a constant supporter of the race, and speaks on the podium at many of the stage finishes. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has been critical of the race’s costs and came close to pulling state funding for it earlier this year.
Kinder, whom many expect to challenge Nixon for the governor’s seat in the next election, said he invited Nixon to attend the stages this year.
A spokesman for Nixon said midweek that it was unlikely Nixon would find time to attend. “He has a very busy schedule this week,” spokesman Scott Holste said.
The state tourism board has contributed $1.5 million each year of its three-year contract with the race’s organizer. Kinder says it was a good investment, pointing to a Missouri School of Business study that found the race had an economic impact of $29.8 million last year.
“The state doesn’t invest in many things that have this kind of 14-to-1 payoff,” Kinder said. Kinder says the Republican-majority legislature supports subsidizing the race, but “the question is whether the executive branch will fully support the race.”
In Missouri the lieutenant governor is considered part of both the executive and legislative branches.
Holste said regardless of the economic impact of the race, in the current economy Nixon has other priorities.
“We don’t want to raise taxes or cut essential services,” he said, noting that Nixon trimmed $430 million in spending from the budget the legislature sent him this year.
“We will have to wait and see and see how revenues come in after this year’s race. The governor’s got an obligation to make sure Missouri lives within its means.”
Despite the event’s evident popularity and success, it seems likely that it will have to rely on increased sponsorship from corporations as the state’s commitment tapers off.
Kinder said he was pushing for the state to commit to another three-year contract at about $1.5 million each year, but that he was willing to discuss a smaller commitment with Nixon. On the race’s final day in Kansas City, he said he planned to send a letter to Nixon to request a face-to-face meeting to discuss the event.
The race’s current private sponsors include the Missouri Farm Bureau, Drury Hotels, AT&T and Wind Capital Group.
“We are always looking for partners,” said Chris Aronhalt, the managing partner of Medalist Sports, the event organizer. “We’re confident that based on the results of this year’s tour we’ve made a very strong argument as to why we should continue this great race.”
Aronhalt pointed to anecdotal reports of increased spectator turn-out this year, a better field of teams and better media coverage, including TV coverage by Universal.
He also said that Medalist is already discussing 2010 stage plans with Missouri communities. “We are optimistic folks here … I think the cities understand and they are willing to take that risk to start the process.”
He gave little hint about what a 2010 route might look like, except that it would include stops in St. Louis and Kansas City. The 2009 route repeated just one stage from 2008, and the practice of visiting new parts of the state each year will likely continue as Aronhalt said dozens of communities are vying to host race starts or finishes next year.