Published: Jun 13, 2012 03:39 PM
Modified: Jun 13, 2012 03:40 PM
Visitors bureau wants funding to boost tourism
Town’s still cool, but agency says it needs to get the word out
CHAPEL HILL - If recent talk about Chapel Hill’s “mojo” rings familiar, you’re right. Three years ago, concerns about whether Chapel Hill had lost its cool made local headlines after an economic development expert suggested Chapel Hill was playing catch up as Durham and other Triangle cities revitalized. Now the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau has asked the town for $50,000 more in the coming fiscal year to tell out-of-towners that Chapel Hill is as cool as it ever was. Chapel Hill already contributes $150,000 of the bureau’s nearly $1.1 million budget. Town staff has proposed giving the bureau that same $150,000 plus a commission on the town’s occupancy tax.The occupancy tax adds 6 percent to hotel bills in Chapel Hill, 3 percent in the rest of the county. If tax revenue exceeds the $900,000 projected for the 2012-13 fiscal year, the visitors bureau would get half. But the bureau wouldn’t get that money until the 2013-14 fiscal year. Last week executive director Laurie Paolicelli said the agency needs more money now for a campaign to keep pace with what other cities are doing. Chapel Hill can’t rest on its laurels, she told the Town Council. Giving money to the visitors bureau benefits the whole town economy, as dollars allocated to the organization in past budgets have been returned tenfold, she said. More people are visiting the Triangle, but “not as many of them as we’d like are coming to Chapel Hill,” Paolicelli continued. “I believe we have more mojo than any city. I think people would kill for our mojo,” she said. “I think what we’re not doing is framing our mojo [and] putting it out there and asking people to explore our mojo.”‘The coolest place’Town officials have defended Chapel Hill’s mojo before. In 2009 Town Manager Roger Stancil told the Friends of Downtown, “I still believe this is the coolest place in North Carolina.”Stancil was responding to a Chapel Hill News story headlined “Where did the mojo go?” about a meeting of community leaders where Ted Abernathy, a former economic development officer for Orange County and the city of Durham, said Chapel Hill “used to be the coolest place” in the Triangle.“There may be many imitators out there, but there is only one us,” Stancil said. “I think our challenge is to continue to stay on the cutting edge. And I think we are working hard to do that. We haven’t lost our mojo.”Council members disagree on how to fund the visitors bureau’s request. Councilwoman Laurin Easthom said few organizations are receiving their full requests this year but said she liked the proposed commission idea. “I like this because it is able to give them what they want and not impact the rest of the budget, because that $50,00 has to come from somewhere,” she said.Councilman Gene Pease supports a $50,000 lump sum, saying the bureau has proven it can bring in dollars,. In 2009-10 the tax brought in $788,685; in 2011-12, $900,000.“This one for me is a pretty easy decision from an economic development initiative,” Pease said.Local business leaders and hotel managers have also asked the council to support the funding boost.“Having an agency in place to help us grow midweek and weekend business is critical. Bringing in new sources of visitor business, large groups and families is critical to Chapel Hill because all around our borders hotels and restaurants and marketing efforts are aggressively pursuing tourism,” said Anthony Carey, general manager of The Siena Hotel. “For many years, we did not have to ask for the business. Those days are gone.” Bringing in more midweek visitors is crucial for sustaining and expanding the local tourism agency, said Nitin Khanna, general manager for the Sheraton.“We are Chapel Hill. We deserve to be one of North Carolina’s greatest assets when it comes to tourism bragging rights,” he wrote in an email to the town.The council is scheduled to vote on the budget and bureau’s funding request June 25.
Ferral: 919-932-8746Schultz: 919-932-2003