February 4, 2012 in Washington Voices

CVB seeks lion’s share of lodging tax group funds

Only two of five committee members vote to give Valleyfest any funding
By The Spokesman-Review
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The majority of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee wants to give nearly all the city’s lodging tax money to the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau and only two of the five voted to give funding to Valleyfest.

The lodging tax money has been a source of controversy since last fall, when the committee failed to recommend funding for Valleyfest and said they wanted to have a second round of applications for the first time in the city’s history in order to accommodate groups that had failed to apply for funding.

The committee includes two members representing hotels that collect the tax and two members representing groups eligible to receive funding from the tax, which is meant to promote tourism. The chair of the committee is City Council member Brenda Grassel.

Valleyfest applied for $50,000 for regional marketing and brought in Pig Out in the Park organizer Bill Burke for support. He said Valleyfest is a “unique investment opportunity.” He offered to assist in marketing efforts in the Seattle area. “This is the only event in the region that markets, brands, positions the city of Spokane Valley,” he said. “Please give them the money. They need the help.”

Lee Cameron of Mirabeau Park Hotel said he questions the results of a 2011 Valleyfest exit survey that said some attendees stayed in a hotel. “If that were correct, we would know that,” he said.

The number of hotel nights generated by an event is only one of four considerations in state law, Burke said. The No. 1 priority is economic impact, he said.

Jeff Fiman, general manager of the Quality Inn Valley Suites, said Valleyfest has received $186,000 in lodging tax funding since the city formed. “We can just keep funding,” he said. “We need to start seeing a return on investment. In the last eight years, it has not been there. That’s something we have to consider.”

Valleyfest director Peggy Doering, who is a member of the lodging tax committee, voted to give Valleyfest $36,000. The only other person to recommend funding the annual festival was Grassel, who proposed giving Valleyfest $15,000.

Last year the committee talked about slowly reducing funds to Valleyfest and encouraged Doering to find other sources of funding, she said. Giving the organization $15,000 is a “fair compromise” and it would be “unfair to go from getting funding to zero funding in one year,” she said. “I’m reluctant to withdraw 100 percent of the funding.”

Cameron and Fiman both said they thought the city should give more funding to Valleyfest from sales tax income. “The city should stand behind Valleyfest,” Cameron said. “The city should take ownership.” Using lodging tax money to market the event in Seattle would be “wasting money,” he said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau requested $275,000 of the $294,000 the city has available. Several of the committee members spoke in favor of giving them full funding. The bureau brings the most business into Spokane Valley, said Cameron. “I feel real strong on the CVB,” said Fiman.

“CVB is getting the lion’s share of the amount and they’re getting the most they’ve ever gotten,” Grassel said.

Almost every committee member proposed dipping into the fund’s reserves and giving out a few thousand dollars more than $294,000. Most suggested giving out about $306,000. There was unanimous support to give the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum $1,100 to market their annual Eastern Washington Farm Heritage event, and the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center between $21,000 and $30,000 for marketing the Spokane County Fair and other events. Other applicants included the Liberty Lake Rotary Club and the Spokane Valley Arts Council. The Spokane Valley Soccer Club submitted an application but did not attend the committee’s meeting.

The advisory committee’s funding recommendations are scheduled to be considered by the City Council during its March 27 meeting. The City Council has the final say in what organizations are funded and by how much.

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