By Nicole Barde

This was an interesting meeting. The agenda can be found HERE.

There were 13 members of the public who attended which in itself was interesting since typically only 2-3 attend. I had heard that the merchants in attendance were there to hear more about the proposed merchant tax/assessment to financially support the VCTC‘s spending so I’ll get to that first.

Oh….HERE is all the Marketing Material…same….same.

During the Financial Update and under Assessment Workshop Update VCTC Executive Director Deny Dotson said that there still needs to be more analysis done to determine if an additional assessment or fee will be imposed on the merchants to support his spending. Board member Ron Gallagher also said that more analysis is needed and that in light of the potential new revenues coming in from TRI (i.e. 700 more rooms) that the decision will not be made in time for the 2017 budget cycle. So bottom line no decision on this until next year. It will give the projected TRI revenues time to actually appear and at that point the decision on the additional assessment or fee will be made.

SIDENOTE: I am glad to see that they will be doing actual analysis to determine what the revenues will be but I am still stunned that a real look at the VCTC expenses and Deny’s past spending  decisions aren’t also being looked at. If the merchants will have to bear an additional fee or assessment to continue to support bad spending decisions then the pitchforks SHOULD come out. The Black and Howell building purchase was a huge mistake given the deficit spending that has been going on. Additionally, although I support gaining the venue, capital spending and improvements on a property (fairgrounds) that you don’t own outright or have a lease option to buy is not smart.  The merchants should not be expected to foot the bill for bad decisions. There don’t EVER seem to be any consequences for errors in judgement, mistakes or deficit spending for Deny. Gee, I wish I had a job like that don’t you?

Back to the meeting:

The other elements of the financial update shows the Transient Lodging Tax is behind last year by about $6k. Discussion about the addition of 700 plus more rooms at TRI was very optimistic that these revenues would increase significantly soon which means more money for VCTC to spend. The Tourism Tax is also behind last year at this time by about $7k.  At this point Board Member ,County Commissioner and TRI principal Lance Gilman said that the zip code issue at TRI has a real shot of getting fixed thru legislation in Congress.  He said that there is lots of new retail being built out at TRI and that the sales tax revenues will be greatly impacted to the positive as a result which means more money for VCTC to spend.

Deny included a Recap of Special events financials which shows a 3 year summary of the revenues generated by each event and the totals for VCTC and Liquid Blue. Lance had asked that this be done last year and I’m happy to see it done again this year. It was stated that these events aren’t designed to make money per se, that they are designed to market VC and to bring people into town to then give business to the merchants.

This summary does not include all of the events (i.e. Hot August Nights etc.) but only the managed events. Net-Net VCTC is minus about $9k for the three year span. Liquid Blue is up $167K for the same period.

SIDENOTE: OK, before your head explodes at these numbers you have to take a couple of things into account. First of all the Rodeo was a first time event, a huge money sink and lost $34k.  I think it went bigger than it should have for a first time event but I have to agree with the saying “we didn’t know what we didn’t know” on this one.  Intuitively I think we can agree that it’s a great event but it HAS GOT TO be managed differently to eliminate the loss next year. So that $34k loss this year skews the numbers for all the other events  in the previous three years which on the whole did pretty well. If the Rodeo doesn’t do well next year then someone should be fired…Oh wait….. I forgot.

The other thing to remember is that the $167k Liquid Blue commission for the three years averages out to about $56k per year. I hear a great deal about how outrageous it is that Liquid Blue gets huge commissions on these events and that we need to get rid of them and do the events internally.  That’s an option but I don’t think it’s a good one at this point. Even if that one person could do everything that LB does the salary for an internal Events Manager plus the benefits would be higher than the approximately $56k per year LB commissions. I do think, however, that the contract for event management as well as the Marketing/PR function should be bid on a regular basis. Maybe we can even get better rates from a Marketing/PR company that Deny does not own

Back to the meeting:

Part of the conversation during the Recap of Special Events review centered around the fact that it has taken a while to get these events rolling given the deep recession that we are coming out of. Merchant Judy Cohen said that after three years of experience with events that the time for “learning curves” ( i.e. mistakes) are over and that if we get to the point of having to make sacrifices like cut expenses, or add tax and fees that everyone involved ( i.e. Liquid Blue and RAD strategies) would also have to sacrifice.

Under Special Event Updates Deny Reported that there was still no “verdict” out on the 4th of July accident.  I wondered what the issue was….it was windy, there was a fire, they should never have been shot off. Well, I guess that the investigation results provides a basis for us to get our money back..OK.

The Camel Races did very well this year and were up significantly in revenues and profit.  Deny reported that the visitor survey results had some very positive comments as well as some areas for improvement. Liquid Blue said that they would be making some changes for next year’s event which includes eliminating intermission, reducing down time during races and using social media more effectively to promote the event.

One of the merchants voiced her disappointment that the local merchant fee for a booth at the Races was $500 and that it was not feasible for her to spend that amount since it’s about what she pays for rent on her store. She further stated that her store is a novelty store and that an identical vendor was brought in to fill the booth space at the races and competed directly with her.  At this point Deny pushed back and said that he would not allow her to come in to the meeting to bash him.  Obviously there was some history here. As it turns out the local booth fee is $100 not $500. This particular merchant had been given an event packet several times and had not responded to inquiries for participation at the event. There was obvious misunderstanding on her part as to the local booth fee and what was available to her. There was obviously frustration on Deny’s part at her raising this issue in the meeting and he showed it. I think his response/outburst was inappropriate and that  the merchant’s question/comments could have been dealt with calmly by providing the facts. People have a right to voice their opinions, even if they are wrong and Deny has the right to counter the misinformation….but in a calm and professional manner.

The Way it Was Rodeo received high marks from visitors survey results. While the Camel Races had “friends” as the main source of how visitors heard of the event it was “social media” which was responsible for the promotion of this event among visitors. The advertising budget needs to be reworked for next year to reflect this …. Hopefully an expense saving.  There have already been conversations in prior meetings about  the changes to the event for next year.  Liquid Blue presented their analysis of the pricing model for the event. One of the many things that was an unknown was what the market would bear as far as ticket prices and they were probably too low for some categories. LB ran a number of pricing scenarios to eliminate the loss and to enhance profit. I think they did a good job at this. Bottom line the ticket prices will change, they will add children’s and seniors ticket category and they will focus on goosing the attendance to make it a financial success next year.

The conversations during the Redrun and Outhouse Races event summaries centered around the fact that not all events are good for all merchants.  Ron Gallagher said that the 4th Ward School really gets very little out of the Redrun crowd but that the Races do well to bring people into the School. A merchant commented that the Redrun crowds impede regular visitors getting into town and shopping. The bottom line here is that the events advertise VC in general and Board member Angelo Petrini commented that it’s basically free advertising for all the merchants and that it is an event by event tradeoff for the merchants but overall a good thing.

What struck me during this conversation based on the questions that the merchants were asking is that they don’t know what is being done by the VCTC to promote the town and how well or not well it is working. This is because they don’t attend the VCTC meetings. They don’t attend the VCTC meetings because they don’t feel that their inputs will be listened to and that they have no control over how money gets spent …. so they don’t bother. What got some of them out this time was the prospect of an additional fee being imposed on them. I think that some of them had voiced their concern/outrage to Deny and/or to the County and perhaps that had the effect of postponing the decision for a year …. I don’t know. What I do know is that if they show up to these meetings and learn what is being done, ask questions, vociferously CHALLENGE actions and decisions  and  push back that they will have an impact…..



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