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Valleyfest granted no lodging tax funds

Money goes to three other groups

Spokane Valley’s only large community festival was largely ignored Tuesday when the City Council voted to allocate lodging tax money to three other organizations. Councilman Bill Gothmann made a motion to grant $40,000 to Valleyfest, but the motion died after not being seconded and Valleyfest was not mentioned again.

The city is expected to collect $430,000 in lodging tax money in 2012, which can be spent only to promote tourism. On Tuesday the council voted to give $42,600 to the Valley HUB, $185,000 to the Spokane Regional Sports Commission and $3,900 to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. The council also affirmed the city’s intention to give $30,000 to city-owned CenterPlace for regional advertising without requiring city staff to formally apply for funding.

This was in contrast to the Oct. 25 council meeting when there was much debate among council members about why the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee did not recommend granting money to Valleyfest, which has received such funding every year since 2004. At that meeting Councilwoman Brenda Grassel, who heads the advisory committee, argued that the three-day festival held every September is a local event and doesn’t draw out-of-town visitors.

Valleyfest organizers, who asked for between $40,000 and $50,000, wrote in the application that the money would be spent for regional advertising to draw in more out-of-town visitors. Grassel told the council in October that the majority of the committee didn’t feel that was a good use of lodging tax money. Valleyfest director Peggy Doering sits on the advisory committee and voted to fund Valleyfest.

During an interview Monday, Mayor Tom Towey said he was concerned about Valleyfest’s application, which had a blank page that asked for information on event attendance and hotel/motel room nights generated. The city is required to report that information to the state, he said. “We have to have an estimate,” he said.

The page was left blank because of the grant application deadline, said Doering after the council’s vote. “The deadline was Sept. 16, a week before Valleyfest,” she said. Doering said she left that same part blank every year and submitted the required information to the city after the event was held.

Doering said she now has the 2011 attendance information and offered to pass that information on to the council. “I was told that if they wanted it, they would ask for it,” she said.

The estimated 2011 attendance is 10,000 for the parade and between 34,000 and 38,000 for the two days of events in Mirabeau Park, Doering said. Attendance on Sunday appeared to be up considerably over 2010.

According to Doering, a team from the Gonzaga University marketing department did a sampling survey of 218 people during the 2011 event. A bit more than half of the attendees were residents of Spokane County, while 29 percent said they traveled between 31 and 49 miles to attend the festival and an additional 19 percent said they lived more than 50 miles away. About half of those who traveled more than 30 miles spent the night in a hotel/motel or campground.

Doering did not speak during the public comment period on the lodging tax money allocation Tuesday. She said after the council meeting that she stayed silent because of conversations with Towey and Councilman Gary Schimmels prior to the meeting. “I knew how this was going to happen before the meeting,” she said. “Everyone up there had made up their minds.”

In 2011 Valleyfest received $36,000 in lodging tax funding from the city, a substantial part of the festival’s $132,000 annual budget.

The council agreed to accept a second round of applications for the lodging tax money, with applications due by 4 p.m. on Jan. 6. They also agreed to let agencies who have already applied for 2012 funding apply again, including Valleyfest. “Why shouldn’t they have a shot at it?” said Councilman Arne Woodard.

Doering said she’s not sure if she will apply again.