88 Kegs of Beer on the Wall 

Last weekend's memorial events proved a fund-drainer for some

Party leftovers typically include fetid vegetable dip, pigs-in-a-blanket gone bad, and a snoozing stranger on the sofa.

But 88 virgin kegs of Budweiser? In America?

That's exactly what Andrew Collins, chairperson of Pikes Peak Police and Fire Athletics, was saddled with after last Saturday night.

"It was horrible," Collins said of the downtown beer garden he hoped would wet the whistles of visiting fire fighters while helping his organization raise funds for next summer's World Police & Firefighters Games in Barcelona. Collins credits myriad factors, including the brisk weather and sparse downtown pedestrian traffic, with keeping his beer garden, temporarily erected in the parking lot at Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street, less than fertile.

By most accounts, last weekend's events -- which brought thousands of people to Colorado Springs to remember fallen firefighters at the international firefighters memorial in Memorial Park -- were a success for local businesses.

Collins' fundraiser, however, was a fund-drainer leaving him with more than $13,000 of personal debt.

Formed in 1995, Collins' group, the Pikes Peak Police and Fire Athletics, has operated under the umbrella of several nonprofit organizations, most recently the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 5. Its sole purpose is to help defray the cost of police officers and firefighters traveling to the biannual World Police & Firefighters Games. Because the organization does not have an official budget, Collins fronted his own money for the beer garden, banking on the widely held assumption that the streets of downtown Colorado Springs would be brimming with visitors last Friday and Saturday nights.

Asked to move

Collins expected between 4,000 and 6,000 people would pass through the tents and tables of his beer garden. The actual turnout, he guessed, was just over 1,000.

"I've been to Vietnam so it takes a lot to get me nervous," said Collins, who is also a lieutenant with the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

Originally, Collins obtained a permit for the beer garden in the intersection of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue. But over the course of several meetings with city officials and downtown business owners, he was persuaded to relocate further east on Pikes Peak Avenue to the World Savings Bank parking lot.

"They asked us to move and we agreed. We didn't want to ruin our relationship with the bar owners," said Jerry Montella, a firefighter on the memorial planning committee with Local 5.

It all adds up

Preston White, the city's special events coordinator, said safety and logistical concerns were also a factor. The garden would have had to be dismantled late Friday night to accommodate procession traffic the next morning, and then reassembled immediately thereafter. White also said local business owners were concerned that a prominently placed beer garden could lead to violations of the open container law, which could result in businesses losing their liquor licenses.

While Collins agreed to the new location, he didn't realize it would come with greater insurance costs, plus an additional $1,000 to compensate the parking lot's owners for lost business. Had the beer garden been on the city streets, Collins said, his insurance costs would have been nearly a third of the $6,100 he now owes. In addition he also owes $3,900 for police overtime.

"If I had known, I would have kept the location right where it was," said Collins.

But by the time he learned of the costs, news of the beer garden had spread through the local grapevine. "I couldn't cancel it because that would have made us look bad and I don't like to look bad," said Collins.

Now, Sam Guadagnoli, who owns Rum Bay and Tequilas with his wife Kathy, wants to help out Collins, citing a verbal agreement that several downtown bar owners made to help out the beer garden in the event it wasn't profitable.

Collins is currently drafting a letter in the form of a detailed invoice, in the hopes that bar owners will keep their word.

Medusa of a bill

Some downtown business owners believe that the City could -- and should -- have done more. Steven Rey, general manager of Jack Quinn's pub noted that in July, Quinn's requested that the City close off the streets downtown in anticipation of the surge in visitors.

"We've had as few as 20 bagpipers stop traffic," Rey said. "This weekend we had over 100 bagpipers and we wanted to avoid that."

Luke Travins, co-owner of The Ritz and MacKenzie's Chop House, has been critical of the City's planning for the memorial events. "This whole thing was planned way too late," he said. "We've known since last year that this was going to be a huge weekend for downtown and the city."

City public communications specialist Rachel Beck said the City was involved in publicizing only last Saturday's procession and memorial, but not evening events downtown. She estimated that between 10 and 15 press kits were distributed shortly before the event.

By contrast, Travins said that, for the Micro Expo event he organizes every summer, planning begins in January. The City's first meeting with downtown business leaders, he noted, was held on Aug. 28.

Meanwhile, Andrew Collins has returned the 88 kegs to Budweiser, though he still has boxes of specially printed T-shirts. All he wanted to do was raise a little money for local athletes, but as no good deed goes unpunished, he's now faced with a Medusa of a credit card statement.

"I'll be happy if I can break even," said Collins. "But I'm the one who is accountable."

-- John Dicker


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