Wednesday, December 12, 2001
You asked rhetorically "Is a Visitor's Center located in a hard-to-reach, anonymous building the most suitable place for the county's information gateway?" (Editorial, Dec. 5.)
I was the chair of the county's transient room tax committee, which was asked in 1999 to review the collection and use of the county Transient Room Tax receipts. The TRT is an 8 percent tax charged guests by county hotels and B and Bs, with the proceeds given to the Chamber to promote tourism. In January 2000 we submitted a report to the County Board of Commissioners which included ten recommendations with supporting explanations. One of our recommendations was that the county take whatever steps are necessary to move the Visitor's Center back to the Port Marina Park. We supported our recommendation with survey results showing that many visitors did not know the location of the Visitor's Center, or believed it was in its prior location at the Marina.
Chamber Executive Director Craig Schmidt vigorously opposed this recommendation, arguing that public awareness of the location would increase with better signage, the passage of time, and the development of the waterfront area around the Expo center. (Director Schmidt also argued that the Chamber had obtained a $130,000 grant to expand the Visitor's Center at the Expo Center, and that any move within 15 years of the grant would constitute a default, resulting in "a strong likelihood that these funds would need to be repaid." Grant default and subsequent repayment is apparently no longer a concern.) The County ultimately took no action on our recommendation.
As noted in your editorial, the problems with the location persist almost two years after our report. The county should consider withholding payment of TRT receipts, which were around $140,000 in 1999, until the problems are resolved. If the TRT receipts are not successfully promoting tourism, they can be put to better use in the county's general fund in these lean times.