WARRENTON — David Reid, the executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, appealed to the City Commission Tuesday night to reconsider defunding a committee tasked with marketing tourism in Astoria and Warrenton.
The Lower Columbia Tourism Committee was formed about 30 years ago to combine the efforts of Astoria and Warrenton in marketing the cities as a combined destination. Reid said the committee has built a strong brand for the region, leading to longer stays and more spending year-round.
The committee is funded by a portion of lodging taxes from both cities and is made up of 15 members who serve five-year terms and represent various tourism related industries.
In May, Warrenton’s budget committee decided to zero out funding to the committee and instead funnel the revenue into the Hammond Marina capital reserve fund.
The city distributes 6.8% of the lodging taxes it collects to the Lower Columbia Tourism Committee. About 19% of revenue is distributed to the marina fund.
“The chamber is the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. We are still and always interested in the economic well-being and the livability of this combined community,” Reid said.
“It does make things awkward. LCTC is again, the de facto destination management organization, and there are growing organizations on the coast. There’s a countywide group called Oregon’s North Coast that is funded in part by LCTC that really is taking that concept that we’ve had here for 30 years, which is combining destinations so that we can get people to spend longer here, get fewer cars on the road and increase the economic impact to our communities, and expanding that countywide.
“And so now we’re looking less at daytrippers and more at three- and- four- day stays by combining the assets of countywide communities so that people have more things to do and more reason to stay longer. So with a withdrawal from Warrenton from the LCTC, that would eventually create sort of a gap in that market, right? We’re marketing everything but Gearhart and Warrenton in that Oregon’s North Coast thing, just in terms of where the money comes from. That said, I don’t think that the LCTC could or would or should ignore what is available in Warrenton. It’s just a question of emphasis.”
Reid argued that it is important for the city to continue marketing so it can maintain and continue to grow its income stream from the lodging tax.
“And without any funding in the LCTC, without any participation in the LCTC, Warrenton will lose that ability to control the message, to drive visitorship where you want it and how you want it,” he said.
Reid pointed to recent city projects like a food truck pod planned for the lot between City Hall and Arnie’s Cafe.
“That’s an entity that will certainly serve Warrenton residents, but in order to thrive, a full food cart pod with the restaurants existing in Warrenton needs some outside money, needs some people that are coming to town for whatever reason, whether that’s tourism or other visitation to spend some money there,” Reid said.
“The same is true for trails, same is true for the marina itself. So in order to market those things in some way, you need some kind of marketing entity. You have one. And you have a very efficient one in the LCTC. If you defund the LCTC, remove all those funds from there, that is an independent committee, they’re going to make their own decision as to what they do.
“But when all of their money is coming from Astoria, my suspicion would be that they would change the makeup of that commission to reflect where the money is coming from and how it’s spent. And I really hate to see that 30 years of effort of building a combined brand go away.
“I do understand that there’s a sentiment that the interests of Warrenton are not represented. I disagree. I think we’ve made an extraordinary effort to make sure that we are as balanced as we can possibly be. But there is an avenue for doing that. And that’s why there are Warrenton representatives voting on that committee so that we get that input.
“All of that is built into the marketing and the function of the LCTC.”
Mayor Henry Balensifer said part of the issue is that Warrenton has struggled to keep its seats filled on the committee. He said there has always been a disconnect, leaving the city unsure about what it is getting from its investment in the committee.
He said the city’s outdated resolution regarding funding is an avenue to reset and have more discussion.
“I think the city still wants to remain in the game with the chamber, but it is my impression from conversations this commission’s had, in the budget committee as well, that it would like to renegotiate the terms of its relationship with both the chamber and its services to the city, as well as LCTC,” Balensifer said.
“And so I think perhaps if we were to continue, and I can’t speak for the whole commission because I know there’s been a recommendation at the budget committee already, but if we were to stay with LCTC there would probably be a need for a direct input from commission, not just a representative of the commission, to make sure everybody is on board with what’s that direction set for that year.
“That’s a different arrangement than what they have on the Astoria side of that, but I think considering the history that would be the most prudent choice if we were to move forward in that direction.”