City pulls back covers on lodging fee plan

By Travis Gulbrandson

travis.gulbrandson@plaintalk.net

The City of Vermillion has unveiled the timeline for a plan that could result in a lodging fee of $1 per room, per night for people who stay in local hotels.

The Vermillion City Council is set to hear a presentation of the plan for a Business Improvement District (BID) at its meeting Feb. 3, said City Manager John Prescott in the meeting held this Monday.

Last September the council adopted a resolution designating the boundaries of a BID.

A board of directors has been appointed and bylaws have been approved since that time, Prescott said.

In developing its plan, the board researched how other communities in South Dakota have used the receipts of a lodging fee collected through a BID.

Reading from the plan developed by the BID board, Prescott said, “The board finds that there is a citywide need to fund a portion of the costs of creation, promotion and marketing of visitor facilities, events, attractions and activities which benefit the city and hotels.

“Eligible expenses may include payment for costs of acquisition, construction maintenance, operation and funding of public improvements, facilities for the enhancement, expansion, marketing and promotion of visitor facilities, events, attractions and activities, and the necessary staff to execute these efforts,” he said.

Following the Feb. 3 meeting, a public hearing to consider the first reading of the ordinance will be held March 17, followed by a second reading April 7.

If it is adopted, the ordinance would be published April 18 and implemented June 1, Prescott said.

The BID issue was raised last September by the Visit Vermillion tourism committee of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce & Development Company (VCDC).

At a city council meeting that month, VCDC executive director Steve Howe said the committee realized it did not have the funding to start activities that could generate new visitor dollars.

“We just don’t have a lot of money with which to grow some of these visitor stays in the community,” Howe said.

Aberdeen, Brookings, Custer, Hot Springs, Mitchell, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Spearfish, Watertown and Yankton are among the communities in the state that currently have a BID with the $2 fee.

According to a memo provided to the city council, the Vermillion board recommended an initial amount of $1 per night.

In last September’s meeting, Comfort Inn owner Joe Eckert also spoke about the BID, saying he was not opposed to it.

“In fact, I think there’s potential for a great opportunity here if it’s done right, but the area of concern is … how those monies are spent,” Eckert said.

By contract, Howe said other entities such as Super 8, West End were opposed to the fee at the time of September’s meeting.

This Monday, Mayor Jack Powell said the BID could be a good thing for Vermillion.

“In other communities that have it, it’s really been a big help for them, so I think it could be for us, as well,” he said.

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