Tourism committee nixes visitor center plan
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
December 21, 2012 10:01 pm

The Brookings City Council this summer delayed its decision to create a visitor center at city hall until it could name a Tourism Marketing Committee from which it would solicit input about the idea – and the first thing the committee did was put the kibosh on the visitor center plans.

“I am strongly opposed to spending one dollar to remodel and make a visitor center,” said committee member Peter Spratt at the group’s second meeting. “I bet there isn’t a count of the number of people that ask for information from the city.”

The committee was formed a month ago to develop ideas and make recommendations to the city council regarding tourism marketing and promotion.

Ultimately, it is up to the city council to act on any recommendation made by the committee. But the idea was one the council most favored to immediately address the void left in tourism promotion after the city and the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce severed ties this spring.

The city worked with the chamber for years to market the area, and the breakup meant the city now had an estimated $35,000 a year to spend on tourism marketing and advertising. The money is generated by a “bed tax” assessed on people staying in hotels, inns and RV parks, and under city ordinance, 25 percent must be spent to promote tourism.

The council thought it would be a good idea during its city hall remodel to incorporate a visitors center, especially in light of demand for tourism information seen at the police station. The visitors center would be operated by a city employee whose regular duties would be relocated to that office, as well.

The committee, however, said the three existing centers — Crissey Field, the chamber in Harbor and a third being phased out at Harris Beach Rest Area — are adequate. Lack of parking at city hall, particularly for RVs, was another reason it shouldn’t be developed, they agreed.

“We lose a great deal in this community if we try to divide the function of things,” Spratt said. “If we’ve lost confidence in the chamber, let’s deal with that issue. Creating another entity where three already exist is counterproductive.”

Events, ads, improvements

The committee had other ideas for the council to consider, as well.

There are four kinds of tourists who visit Brookings: those who attend events, retirees, day-trippers coming from the Rogue Valley and those driving along Highway 101. The Port of Brookings-Harbor effectively lures visitors to events and the chamber takes care of retirees — leaving the committee in charge of capturing the rest, Spratt said.

One idea presented was to spend, say, $5,000 a year on off-season events — notably “incentivizing” locals to develop ideas and help get them going — $5,000 on improvements throughout town and the remainder on advertising.

Advertising in the Rogue Valley has been successful for years, but with the recession and the salmon-fishing ban in recent years, even the highly successful Slammin’ Salmon Derby was affected.

“I think the economy is so bad we need to reintroduce ourselves to the valley,” Spratt said. “It used to be we just assumed they’d come here.”

One hurdle in any advertising could be in bridging the gap between people who visit Brookings religiously and those — even within the state — who have no idea the city exists.

“When I was in Bend, we took two company fishing trips a year,” said Bob Pieper. “And we got as far south as … maybe Coos Bay. I didn’t even know Brookings existed until I came through for the Mountain Man Rendevous — in Smith River.”

“You talk with someone in Portland,” said Port of Brookings Harbor manager Ted Fitzgerald, in attendance to discuss Port activities, “and it’s a rare person who knows where Brookings is.”

While most of Brookings’ visitors come from the valley — Medford, Klamath Falls and Grants Pass — it could behoove the city to promote Brookings to the more far-flung regions of the state, as well.

The port is already working on seasonal television spots to target people between Redding and Klamath Falls.

Yet, an idea to specifically promote Brookings at Crissey Field, operated by the State Parks and Recreation Department, would probably not be permitted.

“They’d probably balk at having a local entity alongside what they’re doing,” said Brent Sieboldt, who represents the state parks on the committee. “But the person there is likely to say, ‘The first village you come to is Brookings. … But if you want to go farther north …’”

Events

Slammin’ Salmon Derby is a huge success, and that’s been mostly word of mouth — and is starting to become an event around which families plan reunions.

And while it rebuilds its numbers — down from 800 fishermen before the salmon fishing ban to 480 last summer — the committee should consider all event ideas, Fitzgerald said.

He cited the Funky Foot Race that, in its first year was a “miserable” experience because of rain, but last year ended up being chatted, blogged and posted all over social media.

“You could have blown me over with a feather,” he said of his reaction when he first heard about the pirate festival. “I was laughing about it. I never knew so many hoards of people are looking for an excuse to get into a costume.

“I never saw people having a better time. There’s a whole subculture of pirate people out there? Who knew?”

Summer weekends, however, are booked, and committee members expressed their reluctance to hold competing events.

Other ideas the committee will consider is working on social media sites — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others — network with Travel Oregon, an internet site promoting the state, and other nearby cities and make improvements to existing events.