The city of Brookings is proceeding with plans to create a visitor information center as part of a remodel of City Hall – and which could result in using some Transient Room Tax (TRT) revenue to do so.
The construction of a visitors center is the city’s way of addressing how to promote the town since the city and Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce cut ties this summer. The chamber, in part with money from the city, marketed the area to entice visitors.
Council was reluctant to use TRT funds, which as proposed in a staff report could be between $10,000 and $15,000, but agreed to forge ahead with the city hall remodel plans and let the newly-created Tourism and Marketing Committee weigh in on the issue.
The eight-person committee, coincidentally appointed during the same meeting, will likely meet for the first time in about a month.
State legislation in 2004 requires that at least 70 percent of net revenue derived from TRT fund “tourism or tourism-related facilities.”
But Brookings already had its own TRT in place when that legislation was enacted, so the city’s supersedes that of the state. In Brookings, owners of accommodations – including lodges, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and RV parks – charge a 6.5 percent tax to visitors who stay with them; the city’s code requires that 25 percent of what is collected “promote tourism.”
“It’s in the same building; it’s an element of the remodel,” said City Manager Gary Milliman, when asked if building a visitors center with TRT funds was permissible. “The office is to be used to man the parks support staff who will also be visitor services. That’s why we’re not funding the entire project from tourism (funds).”
The visitors center will be in part of what was the Public Works office. A window and counter currently being used as a display cabinet will be reopened and doors installed so the center can be used when city hall is closed, such as on weekends.
A city employee will be relocated to that office and include in their regular duties those of a visitor information officer.
Other work in the proposed remodel will include a redesign of the public works office, computer router room, employee lunch room, police lobby and restroom facilities.
“The stickiest part is the TRT,” Milliman said. “It (staff report) says it’s to be partially funded by the TRT. ‘Partially’ might be half.”
The estimated cost of the center is $47,000; last year, the city netted about $37,000 in lodging taxes.
“We’re walking a line here, if this really meets the line of tourism promotion,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “My guess is ‘yes’ because we’re going to set up a kiosk in the city hall.”
Milliman pointed out that when the city contributed TRT funds to the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the contract said some of those funds were to go toward the operation of a visitors center. Instead, CEO and Chamber President Les Cohen said they funneled all that money into promotion.
“That was their internal decision,” Milliman said. “We didn’t hold them to it. We’re providing a space for a visitors information center. We’re putting up signs, directing people to the center, establishing brochure racks for visitor information and providing a public counter where people can come.”
Councilor Dave Gordon said he thought the city should forge ahead with the remodeling plans, including the visitors center. The new tourism committee, he noted, will need time to get established, develop a mission, determine what is wanted to promote tourism and decide what to send to the council for approval on expenditures.
“If we’re going to have tourism promotion, we have to have a visitor information center at some time,” said Councilor Dave Gordon. “We have to get it going.”
Hedenskog wasn’t so sure.
“I was hesitant about using TRT money,” Hedenskog said. “I want to give the new committee time to review it and advise the council. I want to see what the final dollar amount is before I say yes or no. I’m still hesitant.”
Despite the economic woes facing the area, tourism has remained a mainstay in revenue in Curry County.
According to the state Department of Revenue, from Jan. 1, 2004, to May of 2012, the state collected nearly $85 million from lodging taxes. Curry County had an average of 98 lodging venues that collected $1.38 million in that same time period.