VANCOUVER — For the first time since the 2008 economic downturn, the city of Vancouver is using money from its lodging tax funds to fund various nonprofit tourism-related projects.
Also known as the “hotel/motel tax,” the lodging tax is a 4 percent tax on overnight stays at area hotels, motels, campgrounds and recreational vehicle parks. Under state law, cities and municipalities can use this tax revenue for tourism-related events and marketing purposes.
The city of Vancouver has, since 1998, used half of its lodging tax dollars to pay down the debt on its downtown convention center and half to fund city and nonprofit projects that promoted tourism in Vancouver. The economic downturn in 2008 changed things.
“Because of the Great Recession and the need to ensure the debt payments were made … from 2008 to 2016, the [lodging tax] funds were dedicated solely for the convention center,” explained Christine Smith, the city of Vancouver’s accounting manager.
Last year, however, the city had $1.2 million available after paying down the convention center debt with lodging tax revenues.
“This money can be used for tourism and marketing promotion by the city or a destination marketing organization,” Smith told Vancouver city councilors at an informational meeting on Mon., Nov. 21.
The funds, doled out through a grant application process, can also be used to fund the marketing and/or operations of special events designed to attract tourists, to provide capital or operating expenses for tourism-related facilities owned and operated by the city – such as the convention center — and for operating expenses of tourism-related facilities owned or operated by a nonprofit organization.
In 2016, the city convened its Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, which includes four members of the public, four members from the private tourism industry and City Councilmember Alishia Topper as the group’s chairperson and tiebreaker, for the first time in five years.
The committee began accepting grant applications from city agencies and nonprofits in July. By the mid-September deadline, the committee had collected 22 applications totaling nearly $1.5 million in grant requests. After debating the merit and potential tourism value of each request, the committee is recommending the full or partial funding of 17 requests.
Jan Bader, the city of Vancouver’s program and policy development manager, told councilors that organizations could submit more than one grant request, that the event or facility needed to be within Vancouver’s city limits, and that the request needed to be for at least $5,000 but had no maximum.
“This is the first time we’ve done this since 2008 and the first time we’ve used the electronic process, which needs some tinkering for the next round,” Bader said. “We’re meeting in December about how to make the process easier the next time around.”
Vancouver Councilmember Jack Burkman said the committee’s process seemed good, considering that it’s been nearly a decade since the committee has gone through this type of grant process.
“This is a very broad range of places to invest the money,” Burkman said. “It looks like a very well-thought-out and balanced approach for this year.”
The city council is slated to discuss and approve the committee’s recommendations for 2017 grants at their Nov. 28 council meeting. Funds will be available for distribution in January of 2017 and the process begins again for 2018 in July. The city will use some of the lodging tax funds in 2018 to help refurbish the convention center, so the funds available to tourism-related events and projects will be less than this year – about $500,000 instead of the $1.2 million available this year.
Among the committee’s recommendations for grant approval:
- $293,683 for the city of Vancouver to add new amenities to Waterfront Park, including a cantilevered river outlook, 16 custom-made benches and 15 bike racks.
- $195,700 for Visit Vancouver to fund its “How to Vancouver” campaign and promote Vancouver as a tourism destination to residents in the south Puget Sound area.
- $15,314 for Vancouver’s Downtown Association’s walking maps project, which will fund the design of a downtown walking map and the printing of 101,000 copies of the map to distribute to tourists.
- $11,000 for the Arts of Clark County’s annual Open Studios Tour, which opens artist studios in Vancouver and throughout the entire county to visitors for one weekend each year.
- $39,625 to Bravo Vancouver to expand marketing for the 20th Anniversary Wine & Jazz Festival, as well as installing two educational stages: the “wine stage,” which would provide general education to festival goers, and the “jazz education stage,” which would connect students with festival performers.
- $24,000 to Clark County to expand marketing for the annual Recycled Arts Festival, which is held in Vancouver, and to provide portable toilets, security, a new shuttle service, temporary help and enhanced entertainment at the 2017 festival.
- $35,995 for the Clark County Historical Museum’s marketing program, to develop and implement a marketing campaign for the museum.
- $90,444 for the city of Vancouver to cover costs associated with the annual Independence Day at Fort Vancouver celebration.
- $5,700 to the Confluence Project to support ethnobotanical walking tours, marketing materials for a “story gathering” and for production of a promotional video.
Other recommended grants would fund various tourism-related projects for the Friends of Fort Vancouver, the Portland/Vancouver Rowing Association, the Vancouver Downtown Association’s downtown flower basket program and several other Visit Vancouver programs and marketing campaigns.