Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coolness Lost

This isn't a very happy post, you all. Two things have happened here that have made life less cool.

1. Goodbye to Felini

First is that Felini, one of our favorite restaurants in Columbia, has shut its doors. I wrote about this restaurant earlier; you can see that earlier post for more about it.

I found it an uncommon type of restaurant, for the Midwest. The food was creative and delicious without being "trendy." The presentations were elegant without being ostentatious.

The menu was varied enough so that there was something for everyone in the party, and there were some items you can't get anywhere else (Kosovar-Albanian specialties such as Tava Sautee, Qoftethes, and their unique style of kebobs; their Greek and Italian dishes included an unusual and addictive tuna calzone, Domate Supa, and Galaktobureko).

The ambience was pleasant, relaxing, "nice," without being hoity-toity. The service was attentive, gracious, and friendly without being in-your-face. The prices were very reasonable.

Felini opened my eyes and palate to a new cuisine, and it renewed my memories of the great dinners we would have at my Grandma Schroeder's house--first-class food made with love, the good dishes, good wine, and yet so comfortable, with plenty of room for ebullient conversation, even singing. I found Felini a tremendous inspiration for my own cooking and entertaining, and I already miss it.

(Wonder how I can get the recipe for their tuna calzone? Man, that was great!)

2. The Tour of Missouri

Well, this is just a damn shame: Governor Nixon and the Missouri Tourism Commission have nixed the funding for what would have been the fourth annual Tour of Missouri bicycle stage race (which is a lot like the Tour de France). Each summer, from 2007 to 2009, the world's top cyclists--professional athletes on a level with Lance Armstrong--have come with their international teams to compete in a progressive race that took place all across our state.

They rode in Kansas City and St. Louis; they rode in Gallatin and Taos. The races were broadcast on the Web, and cycling enthusiasts worldwide learned about Missouri, saw our beautiful landscapes, our rolling hills . . . and many came as tourists to follow their teams for the whole week.

There are a large number of stage races worldwide, but the Tour of Missouri quickly rose to become one of the most significant apart from the Tour de France. It is ranked as one of the top 5 races outside of Europe. The biggest pro teams were attending. People were really paying attention to this race.

Both public and private money sponsored the Tour of Missouri; this year, the Tour was asking for $1,000,000 from the state. The total event budget was $3.5 million, and much of the corporate and city funding has been tied to the assurance of support from the state.

The part I can't understand is how the great benefits of the Tour of Missouri can be so summarily discounted: For the state, there's an estimated average 20 to 1 Return on Investment for this event. Tax revenues are estimated at $3.8 million. Numerous world-famous Tour de France winners, Olympic medalists, and other top cyclists appeared on Tour of Missouri podiums. Our event was broadcast in 173 countries, and Versus, Fox Sports Midwest, and Fox Sports Kansas City provided daily telecasts to American viewers.

Visitors from 42 states and 15 countries came to Missouri, dined, and slept in motels here. There were 790 million circulated impressions of the event with Missouri by-lines. This was the most international sporting event Missouri has hosted since the 1904 Olympics.

At the starts and finishes, festivals provided promotional platforms for more than 20 sponsors, plus Health and Wellness Expositions; these festivals were attended by an estimated 300,000 people. Included were things like safety clinics and bike-helmet giveaways for kids, information on ways to improve your diet and get more exercise, and much more. An accompanying educational curriculum reached 250,000 students in the state.

Yes, I know that things like "exposing people to healthy ideas" and "getting kids enthused about bicycling" are rather intangible--how can you put a dollar value on an incentive that may or may not bear immediate fruit? But people need to be reminded of health and fitness constantly, and this is one, fun way to do that. Not every kid is going to be "reached" by baseball, football, or other sports (I certainly was not)--but I can understand cycling. You don't need a team to be a cyclist, and cycling is one sport that definitely is very open to women, and to people of all ages, too.

It's also rather intangible to talk about how people all across the world saw the St. Louis Arch, or the Pony Express in St. Joe. How do you quantify the value of a picture postcard? Where is the immediate payoff? . . . As with the health and wellness benefit, it is collective. It might take the thirtieth such "postcard" to inspire someone to come visit our state and spend money here. So to my thinking, the Tour gave us a lot of bang for our buck--cycling fans tuned in every day for a week, so that's seven doses of "Missouri postcard" right there!

But set aside the intangibles: In 2009, the total economic impact by spectators during the seven-day event was $38.1 million. The previous year, that was $29.8 million in 2008, and in 2007, it was $26.2 million. This baby was growing!

Now, when you stop to think that the State was asked to provide ONE million dollars, in order to bring probably $40 million into our state, and it didn't see this as a wise way of spending our tax dollars--well, it's no wonder we're in a recession, no wonder stuff is screwed up, with this kind of thinking.

And yes, I'm a big ol' Democrat, but I'm simply pissed off at Governor Nixon about this. I can't help but think this is some kind of asinine political foolishness on his part, since Lt. Gov. Pete Kinder, who is likely to challenge him in the next gubernatorial election, has been the top politician supporting the Tour of Missouri. Indeed, this race is one of Kinder's proudest projects. And he deserves to be proud.

Governor Nixon has really missed his mark on this decision. The Tour of Missouri is too good to be a political football. In many ways, Nixon's and Kinder's stances on the Tour of Missouri seem to swap the usual positions of Democrat and Republican. Stereotypically (if I can make sweeping generalizations), Democrats are willing to spend public money on the "intangibles" concerning community spirit (including small towns) and promotion of public health and wellness; the Republicans seem most likely to refuse public dollars for, well, anything public-welfare-related. Republicans usually refuse to allow public money in any projects constructive for the common man, insisting that private sources fund it all. But here the roles seem reversed, with Kinder backing this popular, public-private cosponsored, do-good, feel-good, everyone-wins project.

It takes more than a shrewd politician to know when to support his opponent's good works--it takes someone who really cares about the state. And so I have doubts about Governor Nixon. This really smells like partisanship. I haven't ever voted for a Republican, but I have to admit: Nixon's stand on the Tour of Missouri is making me reconsider.

Will the Tour of Missouri return in 2011? If a last-minute change on the part of the Tourism Commission and Nixon doesn't save it for 2010, then probably not. So goodbye, Tour of Missouri, you were really inspiring, and you made me proud of every corner of our state, from the smallest rural towns to our largest cities.

And so Missouri has had, and lost, another really cool thing, and my friends from out of state will have another reason to say, "How can you live there? What a backwards state! That place must really suck." And yeah, sometimes it really does.

1 comment:

Ann Marie Gamble said...

I don't think it's politics but math: the money just isn't there. He's got a budget disaster, a shrinking tax base (the economy sure doesn't look like it's rebounding here yet), and voters notoriously unwilling to vote themselves out of holes. If the million could bring in that much money, why don't the private entities who benefit take the risk?