Brookings struggling tourism board enters second year

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer September 13, 2013 08:07 pm

The city of Brookings Tourism and Marketing Advisory Board is still grappling with growing pains as it goes into its second fiscal year.

Arguments over how city tourism dollars can be spent — and the forging of a new relationship between the city and Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce — were among the highlights of the board’s meeting Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve got the train moving,” said member Bob Pieper of the group’s efforts to promote tourism in the past eight months since BTMA’s inception.

The group met to decide how to forge ahead in its second year of operation, addressing its $28,000 budget and how much should be meted out to different tourism efforts. The board serves in an advisory capacity to the city council, so no decisions are final.

But the meeting got off to a rough start during discussion of the amount of money it has in this year’s budget — and that some of last year’s money seems to have been spent on a visitors center in the city hall and, more pointedly, pay to those manning the center.

“As an individual person who collects part of this tax, I want to know,” said Ken Bryan, owner of Wild Rivers Motorlodge and chamber member. “You’re spending money on a visitors center at city hall? There’s going to be some serious questions about that.”

Under state law, revenue generated from a Transient Lodging Tax (TLT) is to be spent on tourism marketing and promotion efforts. In most cities, 70 percent of that goes to tourism and the remainder to the municipality or county’s general fund. Brookings, however, was grandfathered into the legislation, and has 75 percent going to the general fund and the rest to tourism.

“You must allocate these dollars to marketing and promotion — it’s state statute,” Bryan said, protesting that someone is paid to man the center. “You guys cannot make any recommendations to the city council for anything but promotion and marketing, or it’s misappropriation of funds.”

City Manager Gary Milliman noted Thursday that the city’s municipal code is subject to “a very broad interpretation,” and the portion of the code addressing it is merely one sentence: “The city shall use 25 per cent of the transient room tax collections each year to promote tourism.”

“In part, it’s true,” Milliman said of the expenditure. “It’s not an unusual circumstance. Gold Beach operates its visitor center, and it is funded entirely by TLT taxes. When the chamber received funding (from the city), they weren’t using any portion of funds to pay for staffing; that’s their decision.

Last year, Brookings had about $35,000 to spend on tourism efforts; this year that amount dipped slightly, to $31,309.

The year ahead

The group eventually decided it would spend $3,000 on print advertising, $10,000 to help new and possibly existing events grow, and another $10,000 on television and radio advertising. Similar to last year, criteria for events include the requirement that any event proposed must be new, or if it is an existing event, be adding a “new spin” to it, they agreed. Additionally, off-season events will receive priority and there must be an indication the event will bring visitors to the city. Additionally — and then, “if Ken’s right,” said board member Candice Michel — funding will only be allocated to the marketing end of any proposal, and not such elements as banners and entertainment.

Although the board only recently allocated money to Channel 5 in the Rogue River Valley to advertise Brookings, they agreed they’d like to be hearing — and soon — how those efforts are paying off.

Events

The board eventually opted to recommend to the city council spending $2,000 for marketing Bruce Ellis’ Pirate Productions debut “Doo Wop on the Boardwalk” (Oct. 19); $300 toward advertising of the Haunted House put on by Chetco Pelican Players (Oct. 24-31); and $500 to the Rotary Club of Brookings-Harbor to promote its Raining Cats and Dogs event (Oct. 5).

Board members were wary about the Doo Wop event, saying they were unsure why people would travel more than two hours to the coast for a one-day event that could get rained out.

“We have to have seed money to avoid what happened to the Pirate Festival,” said Ellis, who cited weather, the $5 entry fee and competition from the Saturday Market on the boardwalk as reasons for that festival’s poor attendance this year. “We have to get out there and see if we can make this thing go down.”

He noted that the cost of entertainment is “outrageous,” and said he wouldn’t be able to do the event without assistance.

“I worry that there’s not enough time to promote it,” Cimarello said, to Ellis’ protests to the contrary. “I just don’t want to set you up for failure.”

The Haunted House, first held in 2003, has increased in popularity each year, being the only such event in Del Norte and Curry counties; the nearest similar event of its size is in Eureka, noted Chetco Pelican Players board member Claire Willard.

Board member Tim Patterson was also curious why the city should provide funds for an organization — in this case, the Rotary Club — that planned to stage its event regardless of any contribution from the tourism board.

“You’re already funded; why do you need us?” he said. “We have to believe people are coming from Grants Pass to watch the doggies fall.”

Rotarian Judy May-Lopez said the funds would go to further their advertising efforts — and noted that while rubber kittens and puppies dropped from a helicopter might be a far-fetched reason for people to travel so far to get here, the Wild Rivers Ducky Derby succeeded in doing so.

An olive branch

The new chamber director, Arlis Steele, suggested the chamber and city combine efforts and advertise in Oregon Coast magazine — subsequently bridging the chasm between the two entities that was created in 2012.

The city and chamber broke ties that spring after the city decided not to give its tourism dollars to the chamber to conduct advertising on behalf of the area.

“I think it’s a good effort by the committee to coordinate a promotional effort (with the chamber),” Milliman said. “There’s some indication they’d like to work more closely with the (chamber). Perhaps that is a start in that direction.”

She said in a memo that, despite an Aug. 27 offer from the tourism board to pay for half of the advertising, the chamber is already scheduled for a one- to two-page spread in the magazine’s March/April Mile-to-Mile publication.

She asked if the board would reconsider and pay the full amount for the next round of publications since the chamber has already agreed to pay for next springs’. That cost is $3,309; the committee agreed it would recommend it to council.

“With our partnership, we would have eight months covered in the magazine, dominating pages (in those issues),” she wrote.