They may have to be scaled down, and they won’t likely see a minute of TV time. But the 2004 Gorge Games are still very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Hood River business community.
With or without large corporate support, the 35 people who attended Wednesday’s community meeting at the Hood River Hotel made it very clear to Gorge Games owner and founder, Peg Lalor, that they would like to see some form of the long-running sports and lifestyle festival take place in the summer of 2004.
But desire alone is not going to bring back the area’s signature event after taking last summer off.
“It’s going to take lots of money,” Lalor said. “Money that, frankly, we don’t have right now. I have been in discussions with some larger companies about 2005, but if we move ahead with a plan for 2004, I have to feel like the people in this community want to make it happen. And right now, I’m not even sure if everyone does.”
Lalor founded the Gorge Games in 1996 and coordinated it until 1999, when the festival took its first of two summers off.
She then partnered with Connecticut-based Octagon Marketing for the 2000-02 Games, and saw the phenomenon go international after garnering additional support from large conglomerates such as Subaru, Ford and NBC.
Lalor reclaimed 100 percent of the ownership rights in late 2003, and has been searching for support far and wide to bring the Games back this summer. But since most corporations have already allocated their budgets for the upcoming year, she believes that targeting 2005 for a return of “the big one” makes more sense.
“I have no real infrastructure backing me right now,” she said. “Some companies have shown support, but we don’t have enough at this point to move forward.
“I will put in the work for this summer if we can make it make sense. But right now, I would be working really hard to lose a lot of money. And that’s not smart business,” she said.
So if the money isn’t there and the vocal support from the community has been minimal, what would be the benefits of scrambling together a plan in the next month?
“We already took last year off, and we can’t risk all the negative publicity that may come out of canceling it again,” said local photographer Richard Hallman.
“We have already established an image for the Gorge, and we don’t need a big marketing firm to sell it. But it’s going to take communication and compromise from everyone to make it happen. We can’t turn a blind eye to recreation here, because, like it or not, that is the future of this area,” he said.
Hallman and most others in attendance agreed that something is better than nothing this summer. And while all the bells and whistles may be absent, the Gorge Games can still thrive.
“Over the past eight years, the Games have branded an image for the Gorge,” Lalor said. “People are going to keep coming here as a recreation destination no matter what, but it wouldn’t hurt to have something big going on during the busiest time of year for tourists.”
Talks of a “bare bones” festival, with little more than the competitions themselves, also surfaced at Wednesday’s meeting. But for something like that to happen, the Games will need the support of local government officials in addition to the business community.
“We need to get the Chamber of Commerce, the Port, the City Council, and the County Commission to get together and sell it as ‘our event,’” said Shortt Supply owner Brian Shortt.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page so we can let potential supporters know that the Gorge Games is not just important to Hood River. It’s valuable to the entire state,” he said.
Lalor has already begun discussions with Oregon Tourism and the Oregon Sports Authority about marketing the Games on a state-wide level. And while no decisions have been made by either party, logic says these growing entities would at least want to listen.
“The Gorge Games became a worldwide endeavor when they were broadcast on TV,” she said, “and they have penetrated the extreme sports market very deeply. They already have a global presence, so if we can sell the Games as a benefit to the entire state, we could see it grow even more in years to come.”
There are currently no other events in the state that attract the kind of worldwide interest that the Gorge Games do. So instead of trying to “bleed the local community,” as Lalor said, it may make more sense to involve outside organizations to make the Games even larger than one week in July.
“We need to create a year-round energy here and make people remember the Gorge,” said local photographer Jim Semlor. “This is a gold mine, and the town needs to take ownership of it. Everything else will follow in time.”
Lalor has put together a survey that will soon be posted at www.gorge.net. She hopes to use the information to make a decision about this summer and beyond.