After 20 years of working together to attract tourists, the city of Brookings and the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce are going their separate ways.
The city council recently offered the chamber a one-year tourism promotion contract, instead of the usual five-year deal, that included about $35,000 in motel taxes to cover the cost of advertising throughout the region.
However, the chamber has rejected the contract, saying that a one-year deal effectively keeps them from being able to work out good advertising deals with major advertisers. They want the same five-year contract they have agreed to for the last 20 years.
“We were surprised. We were incredulous,” Chamber Director Les Cohen said Tuesday about the city’s decision not to pursue a five-year contract. “We just provided the city a tourism promotion marketing plan for the next five years. That was a lot of work, and it was just dismissed.”
On Monday, the city council discussed various methods that would allow the city do it’s own tourism promotion, staring July 1. One of the alternatives was to form a “promotions committee” consisting of city officials and citizens, similar to that in Gold Beach.
“That’s the direction I’d like to go,” said Councilor Jake Pieper.
Councilor Brent Hodge was quick to explain that there were no hard feelings with the chamber.
“I’m not disenchanted with the chamber. They’ve been doing a good job, but I don’t like committing to another five years,” Hodge said.
Councilmember Ron Hedenskog said “If the chamber is not interested in a one-year deal, then we have no choice but to move forward on other alternatives.”
The councilors instructed City Manager Gary Milliman to research alternatives and bring them back at a later date.
“We have the chamber’s recent budget numbers, so we know where the money was spent for advertising,” Milliman said.
The city’s current five-year contract with the chamber is set to expire July 1 this year. Under the contract, the city provides 25 percent of the Transient Lodging Tax collected each year to the chamber, which uses the money to promote tourism and local events through advertising, mailings, billboards and other methods. The agreement also requires that the chamber operate the Visitor Information Center at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
Brookings’ motel tax is 6 percent, which generated $137,331 in fiscal year 2010-11. Of that amount, $35,095 was given to the chamber, which added about $24,000 of its own money for tourism promotion efforts.
A crack in the city/chamber relationship regarding tourism promotion began several months ago when the city council questioned whether the 25 percent of Brookings’ motel tax should go entirely to the chamber.
Several councilors suggested that some of the money could go to other organizations, such as the Brookings Merchants Association, which recently asked the city for money to decorate downtown light poles this Christmas. That request was denied because of budget constraints.
At its April 23 meeting, the city council voted to enter into a one-year contract with the chamber so they could study the issue without committing to another five years.
At the time, Pieper said the chamber was doing a good job with the city’s money, but “I’m looking to end the monopoly that the Chamber has on our promotional dollars ... I have trouble with using just one group. There’s no competition.”
Following the decision, Chamber President Ken Bryan said one year was not good enough.
“A lot of our advertising is done through multi-year contracts; this effectively bind are hands when it comes to negotiating those contracts,” he said. “It will cost us more money in the long run.”
On Tuesday, Cohen said the chamber’s executive committee discussed the city’s one-year contract last week and determined it was not interested.
“In order to continue a consistent, effect advertising campaign, we need at least a five-year contract,” he said. “It allows us to get more bang for the city’s bucks.”
The chamber, Cohen said, is confused by the city’s sudden change of heart and doesn’t want to be adversarial.
“We’ve been good partners with the city for 20 years,” he said. “There’s never been any questions. No dissatisfaction.”
The chamber thought that rejecting the city’s one-year contract might result in further negotiations.
“We we’re hoping the city would come back to the table, saying they reacted hastily and be interested in a five-year contract,” Cohen said.
However, by not being contracted to do tourism promotion, the chamber will be able to focus its efforts and funds on projects that benefit its members more directly. Those projects include business advocacy and legislative issues that impact businesses, Cohen said.