Historic preservation vs. tourism?

  Colorado’s ancient petroglyphs and pioneer-era courthouses might soon be left to the ravages of time. State Treasurer Mike Coffman wants to boost the state’s economy by redirecting funds earmarked for historic preservation to promote tourism.

In 1990, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment that legalized gambling in three towns — Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek — and sent 28 percent of the resultant tax revenues into the State Historic Fund. Since then, the state has spent about $125 million to restore more than 2,000 archeological and historical sites.

But in mid-March, Coffman proposed using half of the State Historic Fund to market tourism in the state. He argues that historic preservation may not even need state funding: “We need to look at what private developers can do on their own,” he says.

Preservationists reject the notion that they are flush with money. “We usually have to choose between many good projects,” says Mark Wolf of the Colorado Historical Society. Large portions of the fund are earmarked to be returned to the gaming towns, to administer the Colorado Historical Society and to renovate the State Capitol over the next six years. If the fund is cut in half, little will be left for other projects.

Before any money can be moved, voters must approve another constitutional amendment. Coffman’s proposal can get to the ballot either as a citizens’ initiative or with two-thirds support of both the state house and the senate.
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