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Healdsburg Gives Final OK to Tourism District

'You guys stepped up to the plate,' Mayor Gary Plass tells lodging owners.

 

Healdsburg City Council gave its unanimous blessing Monday on a plan proposed by the city's lodging owners to create a pool of joint money for their local industry's growth and improvement.

"I feel like this is going to be very successful," said Councilman Jim Wood before the 5-0 vote in favor of creating the Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District.

"These public-private ventures are going to the be the wave of the future ," Wood told members of the Healdsburg lodging and business community at the meeting. "You'll have a source of money that no one can take away."

Under the plan, each of Healdsburg's 21 or 22 lodging establishments will add a 2 percent assessment to the cost of each night's room, effective Jan. 1. The assessment will be added on to the room fee, similar to the current transient occupancy ["bed] tax, but as a separate item.

"I think it's a great opportunity to replace that said interim executive director of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce. "For seven years, we had that (redevelopment) public-private partnership, but that's going away."

A committee of lodging owners will decide how to the spend the money, estimated to total at least $320,000 annually and possibly up to $400,000 annually, depending on tourist traffic.

"You guys have stepped up to the plate," said Healdsburg Mayor Gary Plass. "You're taxing yourselves."

The money will be collected by the city, which will receive a 5 percent fee to cover the cost of doing the collections. The city will distribute the money to the which will manage and administer the funds, based on the wishes of the lodging owners.

A committee of six lodging owners has been established to lead the group in deciding how to spend the money.

The Chamber will receive a 10 percent fee to handle the administration costs, a provision that initially had Peter Lenz, owner of the "a little queasy," he said.

"It's a fair amount of money being generated," said Lenz, who acknowledged that he was not part of the earlier discussions on the tourism district. "I don't like the idea that these different entities are going to try to get a piece of the pie."

Lenz said later he was satisfied about the arrangements after an explanation from Camellia Inn owner Lucy Lewand, a founding member of the lodging committee.

Lewand told Lenz and the City Council that the lodging owners looked at three options for administering the money raised by the district. She said the owners decided that the most effective and least expensive option was to use the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce, which already has its own full-time staff, office and attorney, to administer the money.

That was instead of another option of creating their own independent nonprofit, hiring their own staff and paying thousands iof dollars in attorney's fees to set up the new agency -- a plan that Lewand said was tried in the city of Sonoma but proved to be less than successful.

City Manager Marjie Pettus, who helped draft the plan, said the lodging owners also rejected the idea of doing it themselves because most of them were too busy running their hotels, motels and bed and breakfast inns.

"The Chamber doesn't decide how to spend the money," said Pettus said.  "The Chamber's role is to carry out the decisions of the lodging owners."

In addition to Lewand, other founding lodging committee members are:

--Aaron Krug, of the Best Western Dry Creek Inn.

--Circe Sher, of h2hotel.

--Jason Farmer, of Hotel Healdsburg.

--Kim Patel, of America's Best Value Inn.

--Ramon Serrano, of Les Mars Hotel.

Lewand said the founding committee will not necessarily stay on as the lodging committee's board members, but that the makeup of the committee will evolve after its first meeting, and after a general membership meeting next year.

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