OCCA hires marketing director

       Old Colorado City's merchants have not had a full-time, on-staff director in the quarter-century or so since its major public-private revitalization project. That's going to change Dec. 1, when experienced economic development specialist Karen Earley starts work as marketing and events director for the the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA).
       The business entity's board of directors voted unanimously to hire Earley for the newly created position Nov. 14. “This is huge,” said OCCA President Jim Heikes. “We've been wanting this for a long time.”
       Earley was employed until last April as the economic development director and market coordinator for the Town of Minturn. Her 12-year economic development background also includes stints with the Cripple Creek Casino Association, the Town of Carbondale and the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce.
       “I love economic development,” Earley said after the vote. Her job application states that she has skills in “marketing, advertising, planning and facilitating enormous events.”
       She likes working with small towns in general, but sees in Old Colorado City a colorful, artistic locale that not enough people know about. “The stores here are so eclectic and have such great quality, but it's almost a secret,” she said. “I'm going to try to get the secret out.”
       According to the OCCA's job description, the director is to focus on “two key areas” - luring revenue-producing events to the three-block historic district between 24th and 27th streets and raising public awareness to make Old Colorado City a “destination of choice” for shoppers.
       Just getting started, Earley said she has no specific proposals yet, but will be brainstorming with the OCCA's board and marketing committee. In general, she said, “we just need to start tooting our horn.”
       One idea that she and board members were half-jokingly tossing around after the meeting was reopening some of the legendary tunnels under Colorado Avenue - from the years before World War I when Colorado Springs was “dry” and Colorado City “wet,” and the south side of the avenue was the wild side.
       Earley and her husband Kevin live in Florissant. They moved to Colorado 25 years ago. He is employed at Siemens Corporation, working on water treatment systems.
       She has also previously been involved in staff development at UCCS and written a book titled “Noteworthy Pubs, Taverns & Saloons of Colorado.” Among her personal interests are cigars and her 1941 Studebaker.
       The plan is for Earley to work out of a city-owned building in the public parking lot off 25th Street; it has long housed Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District equipment and has an unused office, Heikes said.
       He preferred not to state the director's salary, but said it was competitive with those in other locations.
       Arguably, the last time the merchants had such a leader was when Dave Hughes worked for them in the late 1970s - helping guide a historically geared revitalization effort in response to problems of seediness and building vacancies.
       In the years since, the OCCA (an outgrowth of the earlier West Colorado Springs Commercial Club) has employed people to handle part-time marketing/public relations or to coordinate certain events, but has not had a full-time, permanent position. (An example in the past year has been Pine Creek Art Gallery owner Nancy Stovall being contracted to organize events such as the Easter Egg Hunt, Scarecrow Days and the current Christmas in Old Colorado City.)
       Meanwhile, sales competition has heightened as the region has grown and increasing numbers of shopping centers have opened. And, some building vacancies have been occurring in Old Town.
       The one OCCA event that Earley will not initially be responsible for is the annual Territory Days, which is contracted to Lynda Dunne's Colorado Main Events for three more years. However, the three-day street festival is by far the OCCA's most profitable event, and the success of this year's event led board members to decide the money was there and the time was right to create a director's position, Heikes explained.
       After advertising the post regionally this fall, the board received 24 resumes and narrowed the list down to five finalists who were recently interviewed. “When she came in, we were blown away with her knowledge and experience,” Heikes said. “We needed a seasoned veteran. She's not interested in what title she has, but in getting the job done.”
       Added board member Kathy Bousquet, “We are so thrilled. Her background exactly fits what we were looking for.”

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