Chamber, CVB seek ideas for using tax surplus

Monday, August 23, 2004

It's the ultimate want ad, bolstered by a big budget and civic-minded purpose.

Cape Girardeau tourism officials hope a series of newspaper ads will encourage area residents to offer suggestions on how best to spend more than $1 million in surplus motel and restaurant tax money.

The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau and the local chamber of commerce began running quarter-page newspaper ads on Aug. 15, seeking tax-spending suggestions. The chamber operates the CVB under a contract with the city of Cape Girardeau.

The city council has asked the chamber and CVB to make spending recommendations by the end of the year.

"I don't know of any other way to get to as many people as possible," chamber president John Mehner said of the decision to run the ads.

The chamber and CVB want written suggestions either in letters or by e-mail by a self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline.

Tourism officials said they want both suggestions on specific projects that could be funded with the surplus motel and restaurant tax money as well as spending philosophies.

One project or many

One of the issues, both civic and city officials said, is whether to spend the money on one project, such as a water park, or fund a wide range of projects.

Mehner said another issue is whether to keep much of the money in the bank and use the interest to help fund the operation of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As of Friday, about 15 written suggestions have been received, said Chuck Martin, CVB director.

Martin won't disclose the suggestions. He said tourism officials don't want to be perceived as promoting a particular project or projects while suggestions are still being sought.

But Mayor Jay Knudtson has suggested the money could be spent to help develop a water park.

"There have certainly been some people that have echoed that idea pretty well," Martin said. "It certainly is one of the ideas."

Former city councilman Peter Hilty publicly has suggested the city use some of the money to erect a large statue depicting Cape Girardeau founder Louis Lorimier astride a horse on land east of the Show Me Center.

In September, a subcommittee of the visitors bureau task force will begin sifting through the recommendations. The subcommittee then will make recommendations to the CVB task force, which, in turn, will make recommendations to the chamber's board of directors.

The chamber board then will make recommendations to the city council, which will make the final decision.

Columbia's example

Columbia, Mo., recently went through an advisory board funding process for far less money, Mehner said.

Columbia's advisory board recommended the city fund over $248,000 in requests from organizations for 14 events, including a ragtime and jazz festival.

Mehner said Columbia's CVB funding recommendations call for funding projects in partnership with other groups.

Mehner and Martin like that concept. They said the Cape Girardeau CVB hasn't funded more than 50 percent of the full cost of community projects in previous years.

While that percentage hasn't been applied to the surplus tax dollars so far, both men said some type of public-private partnership likely would be considered.

Martin said the Cape Girardeau CVB and the chamber will consider projects that can have a "significant economic impact" on the community.

The project itself doesn't have to show a profit. But funding proposals need to demonstrate that they will result in increased tourism, Martin said.

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