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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Saving El Tour de Tucson

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 6:40 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Just before the pandemic, KOLD Investigates uncovered big money problems at El Tour de Tucson putting the future of the ride at risk. Now, after a year with no ride, is the non-profit back on course to financial stability?

For Billy Dolan fitness is a family affair. His dad passed away in his early 60s after battling major health issues including a stroke.

“He was an absolute light,” he said.

Dolan says his father’s death pushed him to really focus on his own health.

“Knowing that my life is on the line because I have the same genetics means I do need to train.”

Dolan trains on his bicycle. He says he also rides to stay healthy for his children.

“Wanting to be strong and fit for my kids and their children, my future grandkids, is really what inspires me.”

Right now, Dolan is training to ride in El Tour de Tuscon Saturday. The cycling community here is one of the big reasons why he loves to call Tucson home and El Tour unites them.

“El Tour is incredibly important just to pull our city together and it brings so many friends together, people that I meet riding on the loop.”

El Tour de Tucson means so much to so many. However, recently the future of the ride was at risk. Facing serious money problems, a new CEO stepped in.

“No money, no mission.” That’s what former CEO Charlene Grabowski told us in 2019 when the ride almost didn’t happen.

“I’m a business person and I do turnarounds,” she said. And turn it around, she did. KOLD Investigates obtained the latest 990 tax forms for Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, Inc, the nonprofit that oversees El Tour. When Grabowski took the reigns, El Tour was insolvent. It was in the red by more than $430,000. However, she stopped the cycle of money problems and got the nonprofit back in the black, up more than $278,000.

Current CEO T.J. Juskiewicz says without Grabowski, El Tour may have become just a memory.

“Without Charlene coming in, El Tour doesn’t happen. It would’ve folded and that would’ve been really unfortunate,” he said.

Juskiewicz says stabilizing finances in 2019 came at a time right when they needed it the most, ahead of the pandemic. It allowed them to get through a year without the ride due to COVID-19.

“Taking a year off, it definitely hurt,” he said. “Anyone that does events, to not have any registration revenue come in for an entire 18 months is usually detrimental.”

He says the community also helped the nonprofit make it through the year without a ride.

“We had a lot of some great support from some locals like Rio Nuevo that made sure that we had downtown events and so we were able to keep our heads above water during the pandemic.”

While the nonprofit’s 990s are looking better, we did find a blot on their record, according to CharityNavigator.org. It gives Perimeter Bicycling Association of America Inc, 71 out of 100. They call that, a failing score. It shows the big reason for that is a missing audit or financial review.

So was the nonprofit missing an audit?

“Actually, no. We’ve brought all that up to speed, so I’m not sure exactly why that’s lacking,” he said. “But we’ve worked with local CPAs to make sure that we had everything. We even went back and looked at some of the old returns and made sure that they were accurate.”

We reached out to Charity Navigator. They told us, “based on the IRS data we have and process for the evaluation we stand by our rating of Perimeter Bicycling Association of America.”

They said this rating is based on the 990 from 2019 where this question is asked: “Were the organization’s financial statements audited by an independent accountant?” Perimeter Bicycling Association Inc replied “no.”

Now, as Juskiewicz gears up for his first El Tour de Tucson, he hopes their money problems are behind them. Is El Tour is now officially saved?

“We’re feeling very confident that we’re in a good place right now,” he said.

That news means the world to many cyclists like Dolan, who says he’s ready to ride!

“I imagine we’re probably going to hold a pace around 26 miles an hour and yeah, it’s going to hurt but it’ll be fun and it’s something me and you know three thousand of my closest friends look forward to. So, it’s going to be a blast,” he said.

El Tour de Tucson rolls out Saturday morning with the 102-mile ride starting at 7:00am. The route is different this year. It starts at Armory Park in Downtown Tucson and goes farther south to towns like Sahaurita and Green Valley ending in downtown once again. Click here for a closer look at the routes.

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