The Spokane Valley City Council agreed to dole out $231,500 in lodging tax dollars on Tuesday, but organizers of the popular Valleyfest community event went home empty handed.
However, Valleyfest could still see some of the money – which is a 2-percent tax collected from those who stay in Spokane Valley hotels and motels – in a second round of allocations next spring when another $100,000 is expected to be available.
In a classic chicken-and-the-egg scenario, Valleyfest volunteers say that may be too late. In a letter to the City Council, Valleyfest board member Stephanie Hughes said her group was hoping to receive $50,000 now in order to begin marketing efforts to attract tourists to next September’s event at Mirabeau Park.
“Since Valleyfest is a 503-c3 organization, we receive matching funds from media outlets,” Hughes wrote. “This means the lodging tax grant funds received by Valleyfest is leverage to receive even more exposure for the city of Spokane Valley community.”
However, in its application materials, Valleyfest organizers did not list any data that supported the event actually generates out-of-town visitors or overnight hotel stays. For that reason, committee members – made up of council members and potential recipients of the funds -- recommended the council hold off recommending any funding for Valleyfest until those stats are available from the September 2011 festival.
“In order to be compatible with state law, cities must establish those lodging stays,” Mayor Tom Towey said Monday. “We can’t fulfill our part of it unless we have some kind of estimate on those numbers.”
RCW 67.28.1816(2) states that “cities must estimate the number of tourists, persons travelling over 50 miles, and lodging stays generated by each special event, festival and tourism-related facility.”
Gothmann, however, counters that the law also specifies that the lodging tax money is for tourism promotion and that there is a perception among some that Valleyfest is a “community event” that does not attract tourists.
In his “Notes and Comments” e-mail he sends out on the Wednesdays after council meetings, Gothmann noted that Valleyfest has had booths from organizations from all over the state, along with Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin.
“The real reason for the January call for grants was that the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau failed to get their proposal to us on time,” Gothmann wrote.
Valleyfest did receive $36,000 last year. In 2009, that amount was $30,000.
The council did agree that the HUB Sports Center, located in Liberty Lake, will receive $42,600. The Spokane Sports Commission – which often brings events to the HUB to generate hotel stays in Spokane Valley – will receive $185,000. And the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum will receive $3,900.
Gothmann made a motion for an additional $40,000 to go to Valleyfest, but his amendment died for lack of a second from the council. He was successful, however, in getting council support for tacking on language to the ordinance that will show that $30,000 in lodging tax dollars was set aside in the budget for city-owned CenterPlace.
“It’s important that as a city we assert our rights,” he said.
Applications for the second round of lodging tax funding will be advertised and due back to the city on Jan. 16. The council is expected to make its decision on March 13 after the advisory committee makes its recommendations to the council.
Groups who received funding on Tuesday are also eligible to apply.