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Tour of Missouri threatened by potential budget cut

Thursday, July 9, 2009 | 8:21 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon is considering a $1.5 million cut to the Tour of Missouri that organizers say could force the cancellation of the September bicycle race.

The Department of Economic Development recommended the cut this week in response to Nixon's request for agencies to identify savings in the state budget. A decision on it will be made in several weeks, Nixon's spokesman Jack Cardetti said.

The state tourism division was supposed to supply just under half of the $3.3 million budget for the third annual race, which is scheduled to start Sept. 7 in St. Louis and end Sept. 13 in Kansas City.

The race is to include about 15 professional teams, including the Astana team for which Lance Armstrong rides and several others currently racing in the Tour de France.

Chris Aronhalt, an executive for the company managing the race, said Thursday that Nixon's administration has already frozen the $1.5 million. Planning for the race is continuing while organizers wait to see what the governor decides.

"Without question, it would be the end of the Tour of Missouri," said Aronhalt, of Medalist Sports LLC, based in Tyrone, Ga. "It would not return. It's such a momentum breaker, it would be near impossible."

The 2009 Tour of Georgia race already has been canceled because it could not find a title sponsor to supply funding.

Aronhalt said the potential cut in Missouri funding is particularly troublesome because organizers have already signed contracts and bought plane tickets for cyclists. If the state pulls out, the nonprofit Tour of Missouri Inc. will still have to cover those costs, he said.

"The race is only 60 days away. We've been planning on it for months now. It really is an immediate type of crisis situation," Aronhalt said.

Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering, said state officials would consider the potential economic effect of canceling the race while deciding whether to go through with the cut.

"The governor supports the race, just like he supports a lot of things that are going to be recommended to be cut," Cardetti said. "The question is whether or not, in these financial times, the taxpayers can continue to pick up the tab for things like the Tour of Missouri."

An economic analysis of last year's Tour of Missouri found that spectators spent about $30 million, slightly more than half of which came from non-Missourians. The study was done by Germany-based IFM Sports, which has an office in St. Louis, and paid for by the state of Missouri.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who has been one of the race's top promoters, posted a letter Thursday on the race's Web site urging cycling fans to call the Democratic governor's office and lobby Nixon to release the money for the race.

"We are one of the most successful cycling events in all of the world in only three years of existence, but we still rely on that key sponsorship from the state of Missouri," Kinder's spokesman Gary McElyea said.

 


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