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Published: Thursday, 10/20/2005

Bowling Green group seeks more money from hotel taxes

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - More hotels mean more dollars dedicated to trying to fill those rooms.

That's been true in Bowling Green, where the addition of an 82-room Hampton Inn in 2003 and a 73-room Holiday Inn Express in 2004 has boosted the city's collection of hotel-motel taxes.

It also has given the local convention and visitors bureau more money to work with and the potential to attract more and larger events.

"We've been very fortunate to get our two new hotels," said Wendy Stram, director of the visitors bureau. "We have a large venue in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, and we have 600-plus hotel rooms now."

For the agency dedicated to attracting visitors to Bowling Green, the timing couldn't have been better.

In April, the visitors bureau, which had been under the direction of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, incorporated as its own nonprofit organization.

In July, the city appointed a 15-member board of directors and earlier this week the bureau made a pitch to City Council for a one-year contract that would increase the amount of hotel-motel tax receipts it receives.

The money, its sole source of income, is used for advertising and marketing campaigns intended to bring people to the city for events like the Black Swamp Arts Festival and the

National Tractor Pulling Championships. The revenue is also used to draw visitors to attractions like Snook's Dream Cars Automobile Museum and even the city's wind farm, "which became an accidental tourist attraction," Ms. Stram said.

Under the proposal, the bureau would receive 55 percent of the lodging tax revenue. City Finance Director Rebecca Underwood said the bureau receives 35 percent, which amounted to just over $50,000 last year, while the rest goes into the city's general fund.

The 3 percent hotel-motel tax generated $142,991 in 2004, but that figure is expected to be higher this year, the first full year the Holiday Inn Express on East Wooster Street will have been open, Ms. Stram said.

Phil Craig, executive director of the Ohio Association of Visitors and Convention Bureaus, said the portion of bed tax the 75 visitors bureaus in Ohio receive varies, although his organization believes the agencies should get most if not all of the tax.

"When a CVB obtains the money, they invest it in marketing that in turn causes the leisure or business traveler to come into the market and spend the night at a hotel," he said. "That then recreates the bed tax we just spent. When the money is taken out of that cycle, it is used once and it goes away."

Chief among the visitors bureau's goals for 2006 is attracting groups of 150 to 600 to come to Bowling Green for events that require them to stay overnight.

It already has landed one such event for 2007 - the Elks National Bowling Tournament, which will bring bowlers to town and an anticipated $2 million over eight weekends.

"This is the kind of thing that by having more funding and more staff we can go after more tournaments, more conferences," Ms. Stram said.

"We want to be competitive in the travel and tourism markets, in the leisure markets, in the meetings and convention markets, in the motor coach markets, and in order to do that you have to step it up a notch," she added.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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