Slipping away 

Slide the City partners with local non profits to make money

click to enlarge Slide the City drew thousands of people to 21st Street on Saturday. - CAMERON MOIX
  • Cameron Moix
  • Slide the City drew thousands of people to 21st Street on Saturday.

Ain't America great?

Where else could you pay $50 to get a major city road closed to accommodate your "here-today, gone-tomorrow" attraction that brings in more than $100,000 in one day?

That's what happened last Saturday in Colorado Springs when Utah-based Slide the City hosted an event on 21st Street that inconvenienced thousands of residents and closed the Bear Creek Dog Park as well.

Tickets ranged from $25 to $45 to slip down a 1,000-foot, watered-down flume. Nonprofit partner UpaDowna reported 4,500 tickets sold.

Slide the City paid additional costs associated with the event, and UpaDowna, which provided dozens of volunteers to help run and publicize the event, is to receive from $5,000 to $7,000, a slight uptick from the promised $4,000 to $6,000, UpaDowna officials say.

Which raises questions about how and when nonprofits hook up with for-profits.

Dave Somers, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, says for-profit companies and nonprofits work together frequently to solve community issues.

"But we want to encourage smart relationships that are beneficial to both and are aligned with an organization's mission," he adds, speaking in general terms, not specifically about Slide the City. "Any nonprofit needs to really look at those one-time events. What is the for-profit getting out of it, and what is the nonprofit getting out of it?"

Slide the City, which is conducting 150 events this summer across the country, often teams with nonprofits to help promote and provide staffing for staging its events.

UpaDowna, which advocates for outdoor activities to enhance good health and respect for the environment, was contacted a few months ago, says Executive Director Steve Hitchcock.

"We're wanting to get people motivated about being outdoors," he says, "so we thought it sounded like a good idea."

As the event neared, Slide the City sought closure of 21st Street, which set off protests among neighbors.

Cyndy Kulp, a Skyway resident, noted via email to the Independent on July 28 that closing the street would pose a "major inconvenience" for that area. "There is basically one main way in and one main way out of the Top of Skyway neighborhood, and all these roads will be congested with traffic," she says, though on Monday, she reported minimal traffic snarls.

After further consultation between the city and Slide the City, the closure was curtailed to about 1,700 feet from Lower Gold Camp Road to Argus Drive, says city spokeswoman Julie Smith, who also notes via email it was the organizer's duty to contact neighbors in advance but Slide the City didn't do so until last week.

Slide the City has had problems elsewhere, canceling events in Butte, Montana, and Racine, Wisconsin, for example, when only a few hundred tickets were sold. A Slide the City spokesman told the Racine Journal Times the company needs to sell 2,500 to 3,000 tickets to break even. Slide's event in Los Angeles was cancelled last year after the city refused to sell the 20,000 gallons of water needed, due to the drought.

Among Slide's overhead costs here: $5,550 paid to the city for traffic control by the Police Department; $3,363.50 to El Paso County for use of Bear Creek Park pavilions; $3,000 donated to the county for dog-park maintenance, such as mowing and trail upgrades that were handled by county crews during the Saturday closing; UpaDowna's fee, and about $250 to Springs Utilities for water. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says Slide the City didn't secure a water source until last Friday.

"Slide the City is not a charity event," Slide the City spokesperson Amy Gessel says in an email, "but a for profit event that partners with charities."

And Hitchcock concedes, "They're here to make money. That's why people go into business."

Businesses that partner with nonprofits aren't unusual. Color runs — foot races in which runners are splattered with colorful powder — are for-profit enterprises that hook up with nonprofits. According to an article on proboards.com, a reporter in Alaska found that the Anchorage Color Run a few years ago paid The Boys' and Girls' Club up to 3.33 per cent of the $300,000 profit, or about $10,000, in exchange for the nonprofit providing some 250 volunteers.

Similarly, Slide the City's business model relies on nonprofits, says Slide worker Brandon Jay. "They're kind of our local communications and local beneficiary," he says via phone. "They help us out a ton in every city we go to." Gessel downplayed nonprofit involvement, saying their help with advertising is "minimal."

Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, suggests nonprofits make "a thoughtful decision" about linking with a business.

"The business has to be adding value to the mission of the nonprofit," Fagan says in an interview. "The best arrangements are ongoing relationships as opposed to a single one-time event." He adds nonprofits should assess potential benefits, whether monetary, in-kind assistance or promotional value of the partnership.

And Somers recommends a business' and nonprofit's values mesh.

That's definitely the case in this instance, says UpaDowna's Hitchcock. "People like to volunteer with us," he says, "because they have a lot of fun."

Noting the group plans to partner again next year, his wife, Randi, says, "It was good for the community."

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