Replacement Games off the table

New approach to promote Gorge region begins to garner support

Everyone in Hood River needs the Gorge Games, but not everyone wants — or knows how to get behind — the Gorge Games.

That was one of the primary determinations made during Wednesday night’s community meeting at the Hood River Hotel.

The meeting, facilitated by Gorge Games part-owner Peggy Lalor, attracted approximately 50 people and addressed a series of concerns from local business owners and community members.

Chief among them were suggestions about what Hood River can do to replace the annual summer festival, which was called off last month due to a lack of title sponsorship.

“There is a break between those who want to save the Games and those who don’t much care,” said Octagon Marketing representative Toby Blanck. “There is support out there, but economically, it’s been a tough, tough year.”

In the end, economics are what decided the fate of the 2003 Gorge Games. And, despite some active community support, economics are what have driven Lalor to make a decision to abandon plans for a replacement festival.

“We need a lot of money and don’t have a lot of time to get it,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s just too much pressure to put on the local businesses, and it may be beyond us with such a short time to get it together.”

Lalor estimated that Hood River would need approximately $70,000 before it could even begin to think about a scaled-down sports-and-lifestyle festival.

“We just don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot,” she said. “We also don’t want to spoil the efforts of the past seven years or slow our momentum. The best thing we can do right now is figure out a way to work together to promote the Gorge.”

Most people who attended Wednesday’s meeting agreed that promoting the Gorge is the

“vision” the town should be working toward.

Numerous outdoor sporting events are already scheduled for this summer. But instead of trying to promote each one as a separate entity, Lalor, Blanck and others agree that the best way to maintain the momentum of the past three years is to sell the playground itself.

“First of all, we have to define something that is manageable,” said Mark Flaming, president of Lava Gear. “There is no benefit for Hood River to try and match 2002. We just have to do something to get people to come to Hood River.”

And, for that to happen, the entire community must get behind the marketing effort. It will take a collective understanding that any tourist dollars that are spent here will find their way into every sector of the local economy.

One of the points presented at the meeting was that if the restaurants and hotels are making money, people are buying more clothing and gear. When the shops are taking in more money, people can afford to buy cars. And when people are buying more cars, the auto dealerships have more jobs available.

“People need to realize that the money is all going into the same pot,” said Hood River Ford general manager Tom Rebek. “If people don’t see a dollar going from their hand to another, they don’t make the connection.”

Which is exactly the approach Lalor has chosen to publicize.

“What we really need most is to improve the communication,” she said. “How can we pull everything together as a team and start working toward a common goal? Once all the private businesses realize how much their involvement means, we’re halfway there.”

One of the discussions at Wednesday’s meeting centered around the “us versus them” mentality between the windsurfing community, the locals of 30-plus years, and the Hispanic population.

“We have to sell the idea to the entire community and show them how they can get behind it,” Lalor said. “An estimated $68.8 million was expected to enter the economy over the next three years because of the Gorge Games. What else does that?”

In brief, the fate of the upcoming summer has been put in the hands of the Hood River community. It’s now up to everyone to come together and figure out a way to market the Gorge.

“We just need to tell the whole world about it and work together,” Lalor said. “But our efforts must involve the whole community.”

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If you have suggestions or comments about how to help promote the Gorge summer, e-mail Lalor at pegola@gorgegames.com.

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