Nov 8, 2011 9:24 PM by Zach Thaxton

Bars say Designated Driver program wants to hike rates 500%

The fate of Colorado Springs' acclaimed Designated Driver program appears grim amid an impasse between the program's creator and several bars which account for nearly 90 percent of its calls for service.

Designated Driver of Colorado Springs abruptly halted its services last Friday when negotiations broke down between program creator Nonie Rispin, Copperhead Road Saloon on North Academy Boulevard, and a cluster of five bars and night clubs on South Tejon Street.  The bars claim Rispin wanted to hike their rates by as much as 500 percent.

"When she came in, she had told us that we got quite a big increase and go ahead and sit down," said Chuck Schafer, manager of The Mansion, Blondie's, Gasoline Alley, Red Martini, and Cowboys.  "It was huge," Schafer said.

Schafer said the previous monthly rates for the venues, owned by renowned Colorado Springs restauranteur and club manager Sam Guadagnoli, had been $100 each with Blondie's and Red Martini being considered as one venue.  Rispin had proposed raising the monthly sponsorship rates for Cowboys and The Mansion to $500 each and $250 for Gasoline Alley and Blondie's/Red Martini, boosting the overall monthly charge for the venues from $400 to $1,500.  An employee of Copperhead Road told News 5 the proposed rate for that club was being boosted to $1,000 per month.

"These locations represent 90 percent of what we do," Rispin said.  She says she rebuilt the organization's fee structure based on the numbers of calls for rides per venue or organization.  She says Copperhead Road alone accounts for an average of 160 calls for rides per month.  Several other participating venues average less than five calls per month.  "How do I justify asking them to pay $100 a month for their two to three rides a month when I have another location averaging 160 rides a month for that same amount of money?"

Schafer says the fee structure isn't fair, especially considering the fact that numerous other popular downtown bars do not participate in the program.  "They're obviously drinking and partying and having a good time at other establishments, then ending the night on our block to get a free ride home," Schafer said.  "It's very unfair."

Rispin admits that is a problem.  "That has happened at a number of locations that don't sponsor us," she said.  "I certainly understand their concern that they are willing to help the organization when other locations haven't been willing."  But she says the organization doesn't have the funds to design or implement a way to prove which venue someone was drinking at before arriving at a participating sponsor's location and then making the call for a ride.

Schafer vehemently emphasizes his appreciation for the Designated Driver program, saying, "It's great to have, it only benefits everbody."  But, he says, the rate hike is simply prohibitive.  "It comes down to the economics of it.  Where does it draw the line and be fair to everybody?"  Schafer says he's not opposed to a rate hike to help support the program, but he insists on a hike that is distributed among more participating sponsors.  "We were picking up the slack for everybody else that wasn't involved."

According to 2010 income tax records, Designated Driver Inc. collected $51,725 in revenue and paid out $52,784 in expenses, including $28,435 to Rispin, the non-profit's only employee.

"We have operated for three years now on a bare, bare minimum and it hasn't worked," Rispin said.  If the bars refuse the rate hike, she says the program will cease to continue.

Schafer says he wants to see the program continue, but not at the proposed rate.  "We're hoping that other (locations) downtown see how good it is and get involved in whatever capacity they can afford," Schafer said.  "At least get involved in it."

The tax records list an estimate of 50 volunteers for the organization.


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