Chamber walks away from Welcome Center project

TJ Gardens Oct. 29 2015
GCNO file photo

Says city’s hotel/motel tax policy makes project not viable

Greene County Chamber of Commerce president Omega Sang announced Monday that the Chamber board has determined that although they strongly believe a Welcome Center would provide many benefits to the community, the Chamber is unable at this time to proceed with the project.

The decision was made after the Jefferson city council failed to guarantee adequate funding from hotel/motel tax revenues to allow the Chamber to obtain the construction loan needed to complete the interior of the building and to support it on a long term basis.

“This was a very difficult decision for the board,” Sang said. “We started the project three years ago with confidence the city council would adhere to the voters’ directive in 2001 when they approved the hotel/motel tax with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the Chamber.

“We were disheartened a year ago when the city council declined to give the documentation we needed to move forward with the project. Since then, the Chamber has complied with all requests from the council but came up short with the council’s new policy for use of the hotel/motel tax fund.

“We still think the Welcome Center would provide a hub for all tourism activities in Jefferson and Greene County, a place to tell the story of Thomas Jefferson, and be a valuable part of the rejuvenated downtown district envisioned by the city council and Jefferson Matters: Main Street. Public restrooms are an amenity shoppers have come to expect. We had hoped to benefit our retailers by providing them. Like the city council and Main Street, we want an amazing downtown. The Welcome Center would have been part of it,” Sang said.

Chamber treasurer Nikki Uebel explained the budget considerations that went into the decision. “The policy approved by the city council last month cuts the amount of money the Chamber will be reimbursed for tourism efforts by $7,000 a year, a cut of nearly 23 percent from previous years,” Uebel said.

“The policy includes a new, separate $20,000 allowance that could be used for the Welcome Center, but the ongoing expense of promoting tourism will be greater than that. Our regular operations and our service to our membership would suffer greatly in a struggle to keep the Welcome Center going at the level of reimbursement the city is currently offering,” Uebel added.

“Unfortunately, we are financially unable to proceed with the Welcome Center. We plan to focus our energy on serving our membership by fostering thriving relationships and serving as a leader, advocate and resource, as has always been our mission,” Sang said.

Contributions made previously to the Chamber for the Welcome Center are being held by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. The Chamber will provide those funds to whatever group eventually completes the project.


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