Tourism Co. Mounting Campaign Against Wamp Budget Changes

  • Monday, June 19, 2023

The Chattanooga Tourism Co. (formerly Visitors Bureau) is mounting a campaign against County Mayor Weston Wamp's plan to limit the amount the group receives from the hotel-motel tax.

In emails sent to Tourism Co. members and tourism groups, the group said the budget limitation puts in jeopardy large state grants as well as events like state championships, IRONMAN and the World Rally Championship.

They also cited the effect on the "Cultural Tourism Advancement Grant" program the Tourism Co. started three years ago with some of the hotel-motel funds.

County Mayor Wamp recently announced that his upcoming budget would no longer give the full amount of the lucrative hotel-motel tax fund to the Tourism Co.

He said he had informed tourism director Barry White that his proceeds from the county for the upcoming fiscal year would be the same as last year - $10,366,000.

County collections from the hotel-motel tax are projected to rise from $10,573,100 to $12,274,000 for the upcoming year.

 Deputy Mayor Cory Gearrin said Monday, "Tourism in our county is welcomed, but we also need to be making investments into parks and youth recreation that citizens of our community as well as visitors can enjoy. That's the reason commissioners have worked with Mayor Wamp to pursue a new framework in which the city and county are partners in funding the Tourism Company."

Mr. White and Tourism Co. Board Chairman Hugh Morrow said in emails:

Dear CTA Grant past and current applicants,

Thank you for your interest in our Cultural Tourism Advancement grant. Unfortunately, we are sorry to report that Chattanooga Tourism Co.'s funding for this grant program for 2023 and future years, as well as other projects to promote tourism, are in jeopardy.

I want to bring your attention to the email below highlighting Mayor Weston Wamp’s proposed FY2024 budget that includes a reduction in funding for the Chattanooga Tourism Co. This proposed budget will be voted on June 21st and would go into effect July 1, 2023 if approved. The information below includes very important ways you can show your support during this critical time. If you plan to attend the Commission meeting, let me know as soon as you can. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need additional information.

Thank you for your support.

We are reaching out with urgency to help protect the tourism economy in Hamilton County. Mayor Weston Wamp’s proposed FY2024 budget includes a reduction in the Chattanooga Tourism Co. funding that will go into effect July 1, 2023.The budget reduction presents significant negative impacts on our industry and the community’s ability to attract people who will spend money at your restaurants, hotels, retail stores, entertainment venues, attractions, and more.

Here is what we need your help with:

  • Contact the Hamilton County Commissioners and encourage them to vote “No” to any reductions to the Tourism Co. budget and express your concerns about the potential negative impact on our local economy. Contact information for the Hamilton County Commissioners is listed at the bottom of this email.
  • Attend the Hamilton County Commission meeting on Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at 9:30 A.M. to show your support during this critical time. The meeting will be held at the Hamilton County Courthouse in the Commission Assembly Room on the fourth floor. Please arrive early to allow time for parking and passing through security.

BACKGROUND

On June 7, the Mayor notified the Chattanooga Tourism Co. about his proposal to reduce Tourism Co. funding that we estimate would be an 18.4% reduction in the organization’s budgeted revenues, totaling $1,908,000. This was only two weeks prior to the June 21 Commission meeting where the budget will be presented for approval. The FY2024 budget will go into effect July 1, 2023.

The Mayor proposed redirecting those lodging tax funds for Camp Jordan improvements. We agree improvements are warranted, although we recommend a county-wide opportunity and needs assessment for multi-purpose sports facilities as stated in our 2023/24 strategic plan.

The Tourism Co.’s Board of Directors agrees with Mayor Wamp’s desire to modify the Tourism Co.’s current funding model by including new investments from the City of Chattanooga. However, we adamantly disagree with how this process was presented and structured. The two-week notice before the budget vote did not allow for proper time to respond.

This reduction will adversely affect the Tourism Co.’s ability to attract people who spend money in our restaurants, hotels, retail, and entertainment businesses.

NEGATIVE IMPACT OF BUDGET REDUCTION

The following is a representation of several current events and programs that we are actively pursuing. We cannot commit to these without the ability to fulfill our current and future financial commitments.

EVENTS

TSSAA Championships: High School State Football and Women’s Soccer

  • These are 2-year commitments (2023 – 2024)
  • Contracts have been negotiated but not yet fully executed.
  • Total investment required: $600,000

Ironman 70.3 and Ironman (full distance)

  • This is a 3-year commitment (2024 – 2026)
  • We are currently negotiating the contract.
  • Total investment required: $1,035,000

World Rally Championship

  • This is a 3-year commitment (2024 – 2026)
  • We are currently negotiating the contract.
  • Total investment required: $3,000,000

The total estimated economic impact of these events for Hamilton County exceeds $108,000,000 in lost revenue.

CULTURAL TOURISM ADVANCEMENT GRANT

The Cultural Tourism Advancement Grant launched three years ago to support tourism-related projects that drive visitor demand and enhance the visitor experience in Hamilton County. In the first two years (2021–2022), a total of$1,063,000 was awarded to 42 different organizations. The 2023 awards are scheduled to be announced at the end of this month to 40 organizations with awards totaling more than $500,000.

The following are a few of the past recipients:

  • Association for Visual Arts
  • Bessie Smith Cultural Center
  • Chattanooga Theatre Centre
  • Creative Discovery Museum
  • Ed Johnson Project
  • Friends of the Festival
  • Hunter Museum of American Art
  • National Medal of Honor Heritage Ctr.
  • Pop Up Project
  • Sculpture Fields
  • Songbirds Foundation
  • SoundCorps
  • Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Approving the proposed budget will eliminate this program.

ARP FUNDING FROM THE TENNESSEE DEPT. OF TOURIST DEVELOPMENT

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDTD) awarded $2,666,565 in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funds to the Chattanooga Tourism Co. to be invested between 2023 and 2027.

A provision was included stating these funds “are not intended to replace regularly budgeted items.” It further states that “Organizations that allow a tourism budget cut throughout the life of this program will no longer be eligible for their Tennessee Tourism & Hospitality Recovery Fund award.”

– Commissioner Mark Ezell, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

We will no longer be eligible for the $2,666,565 in revenues for economic development if we experience budget cuts.

This is not merely a matter of budgetary adjustments; it is about safeguarding Hamilton County’s economic future, maintaining vibrant quality of place, and continuing our collective mission to make Hamilton County a premier destination for visitors and residents.

If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to contact anyone listed below.

Hugh Morrow

Board Chair, Chattanooga Tourism Co.
Chairman, TN Tourism Committee
President, Ruby Falls

Barry White

President, Chattanooga Tourism Co.

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