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The Hilton Vancouver Washington's Financial Woes Could Spell Trouble
for City Events Funded with Lodging Taxes

By Andrea Damewood, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 12, 2010--The Hilton Vancouver Washington's woes could mean trouble for several major city events, including the Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival and Independence Day at Fort Vancouver.

The city charges a 4 percent tax on room bills -- with about half going toward paying debt for the $68 million hotel and convention center and the rest dedicated to city and community events and programs that promote tourism. State law prohibits the lodging tax from being spent on anything besides tourism promotion.

The tax has supplied anywhere from a high of $176,500 in 2007 to a low of about $70,000 in 2010 to promote local events, Vancouver program and policy development manager Jan Bader said.

The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee is meeting at 7:30 a.m. today at the Hilton, 310 W. Sixth St., to discuss how much they have to distribute to groups in 2011.

But if the Hilton continues to fall below projections, more of the lodging tax will have to be devoted toward paying the hotel debt, which is bad news, Vancouver Wine & Jazz Artistic Director Michael Kissinger said.

This year, the committee gave the Wine & Jazz Festival $30,000 from the lodging tax -- an amount critical to promoting the operation, he said. Since at least 2005, the 13-year-old festival has gotten at least $30,000 and up to $40,000 for its advertisements.

The Wine & Jazz Festival -- organized to support the nonprofit music concert series Bravo! Vancouver -- sold more than 12,000 tickets for the three-day event held during the last weekend of August, Kissinger said. The advertising money brings in international visitors and folks from as far away as New York and Florida to Esther Short Park, he said.

A loss of that income would "jeopardize the event," he said Tuesday. "It's not just instrumental, it's critical. There's no backup plan."

Bader said the city is committed to distributing funds for 2011, with following years yet to be determined.

Varied viewpoints

Other big recipients of lodging tax money include Independence Day at Fort Vancouver and Discovery Walks.

Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith, who chairs the tax advisory committee, said he thinks the event money is meant more to help fledgling events get off the ground.

"The intention of that fund for me is to help events and programs that bring in folks to the community and to help them get started," Smith said. "It was never designed to be long term if you can help it."

Still, Kissinger argued that successful events like his are the proven economic generators, with hundreds of overnight guests and thousands coming in from Portland and throughout the state.

"There's a direct economic benefit back to the city when you have huge events like this," he said. "A city benefits economically from a huge event, when it draws people from all over the place."

-- Andrea Damewood


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Copyright (c) 2010, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

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