"Budget workshop focus on civic center, CVB" by: Mike Reddell

Sentinel photo/Mike Reddell
Matagorda Convention & Visitors Bureau director Heidi Simmons shows council a draft of a possible new birding publication for visitors.

   City council’s budget workshop last week focused on the proposed fiscal 2016-17 budget’s civic and cultural arts section. 
   Bay City Civic Center, the Matagorda Convention & Visitors Bureau, Matagorda County Museum and Main Street are included in this budget division and receive funds from the city’s 6 percent Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) revenues. 
   The Bay City Chamber of Commerce is projected to receive $271,250 next fiscal year for civic center operation, maintenance and cleanup.  
   Contracted cleaning services are budgeted at $130,000. 
   “We work to keep appearances up – we clean as much as possible,” Chamber President Mitch Thames told council at the budget workshop. 
   Thames briefly spoke on the need for the chamber and city to discuss civic center rental fees and how they’re structured. 
   The chamber presently rents some center space at an hourly rate and events, like weddings, can be difficult to square up afterwards.  
   “There are ways to look at it. It has been seven or eight years since we’ve done a study and looked at the rates,” Thames said. 
   On weddings, he explained, “we know this is an emotional time.” 
   Overall, civic center rentals range from about $5,000 to $10,000, Thames said.  
   “We are proud of the fact that in past 11 years we haven’t used general fund tax monies,” for civic center operations, he told council. 
   There is a contract pending between the city and chamber, Thames said. 
   “We emailed (the chamber board) a vote and we’ll ratify at the next meeting,” he added. There wasn’t a quorum at the last chamber board meeting. 
   Mayor Mark Bricker brought up adding a line item in the civic center budget to reflect special events revenue. 
   City councilman Bill Cornman asked Thames about civic center repairs.  
   “We’re not in a crisis” about repairs, the chamber president said. 
   He did point out the center’s sidewalk needs help. 
   Thames also led off discussions about tourism and CVB. 
   CVB, located in the civic center, will receive $216,800 from the cultural arts fund for 2016-17, with $48,000 of that going to the chamber for overhead support.  
   The CVB is budgeted to spend $68,000 for advertising, the budget shows. That number is not broken down. 
   The proposed budget does show CVB will spend advertising funds for: Texas Monthly, $12,000; Concert Series, $12,000; for Texas Highways Magazine, $16,000; and “application of the arts,” $20,000.  
   Tourism is part of the city’s 2040 Vision plan, Thames told council. 
   CVB Director Heidi Simmons told council about the advertising efforts and showed council a proposed birding publication that builds on Matagorda County’s status as North America No. 1 birding spot. 
   The hotel occupancy tax was created to attract visitors to visit Bay City and to stay in its hotels. The longtime goal of this fund is called, “heads on beds.” 
   Conventions, for example, provide such a major “heads on beds” venue.   
   Thames repeated his same message from last year to council last week – hotel occupancy here is running around 90 percent. 
   That makes it difficult to accommodate large conventions because of the inability to book large room blocks, Thames said. 
   “The Lions could get only 10 rooms.” 
   “We lost Aquaculture,” Thames said of a frequent convention that Bay City used to have.  
   “We’re pretty successful in reaching out to smaller conventions,” he added. 
   “Hats off to Alicia (Waters) and Rock the Block,” Thames said.  
   Waters is co-director of Main Street. 
   Rock the Block monthly events are funded from Main Street and from CVB for entertainment. 
   Main Street’s successful Camofest last January made an estimated $20,000 and is budgeted to make the same.  
   Main Street will receive $40,000 from city HOT revenues for 2016-17, the mayor noted in a later interview. 
   Also receiving HOT funding are the museum, $55,000, and the Matagorda County Birding Nature Center, $15,000. 

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