After more than four months of meetings, the Visitor Impact Task Force today dwindled down the list of ideas it would like to share with Austin City Council on how to spend the city’s tourism dollars.
Through the use of colored sticky notes, task force members—chosen by Austin City Council to study the impact of tourism and the way hotel occupancy tax revenue is spent—were asked whether they supported, did not support or needed more information on the current recommendations, which were also crafted by task force members.
Much of the discussion revolved around what to do with the heritage grant program. Currently, 1.45 percent of the city’s hotel occupancy taxes funds the ACVB. Some of that money goes toward heritage grants, which go toward local organizations that promote tourism and the convention center and hotel industry through the preservation, restoration or rehabilitation of historic buildings.
Special consideration for the grants is given to historic properties located within Congress Avenue, Sixth Street and the Bremond Block Historic District, a collection of 11 historic homes located downtown, according to the state statute.
Past grant recipients include the Austin Symphony, the French Legation, the Paramount Theatre, Pioneer Farms, St. Edward’s University and the Pease Park Conservancy.
Some task force members proposed finding another funding source for the heritage grants. That would give money back to the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which markets the city.
Many task force members also said they wanted to increase funding for heritage grants. In the past, $200,000 of the ACVB's budget has been allocated yearly to the grant program. Last year, Austin City Council voted to allocate $500,000 to the grant program.
"It's really, really key, that that fund increase," task force member Alyson McGee said. "$200,000 a year is not significant enough funding to have it be useful in any way."
Some task force members also said they wanted the final report to City Council to emphasize equal distribution of funds geographically and culturally throughout the city.
Other task force members said they wanted some hotel occupancy tax revenue to help promote and support local businesses.
ACVB President Tom Noonan argued he is already promoting local businesses throughout the city. On the ACVB's website, www.austintexas.org, visitors can find guides for the "perfect Austin weekend" as well as sections on where to shop and eat.
During next Tuesday's meeting, the task force will continue its discussion on what recommendations to forward to City Council. Members will tackle possible funding for cultural and arts initiatives and the convention center expansion as well as the creation of a tourism public improvement district.
The meeting will be held at the Palmer Events Center at 3 p.m.
Citizens unable to attend the meeting can voice their suggestions for how to spend the tourism tax dollars by visiting Speak Up Austin. The Visitor Impact Task Force's final meeting is May 23 before it presents its recommendations to City Council.