Tourism funding for festivals stirs City Council debate

Monday, March 15, 2010 | 11:36 p.m. CDT; updated 12:54 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 26, 2010

*The director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services is named Stephanie Browning. An earlier version of this article misidentified her name. Also, the article was modified to accurately reflect Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade's position against funding for the Wine and Food Festival.

COLUMBIA — The question of who could utilize $42,000 in tourism development funding faced some scrutiny during the Columbia City Council meeting Monday.

Three festivals — Art in the Park, Farm to Table, and Wine and Food — sought financial support, but Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade motioned for the Wine and Food Festival to be struck from the resolution. Instead, he suggested it be brought before a public hearing at the April 5 council meeting. He said his constituents raised concerns about how the funds were being used.

"One of the senses that I've gotten ... is that this serves a narrow group," Wade said. He said he wasn't sure it justified the use of all Columbia taxpayer dollars.

"Columbia residents don't pay this tax," Mayor Darwin Hindman said. "It's the people who come into town."

The tourism development fund accumulates money through a 4 percent tax on hotel visitors. A quarter of the tax — usually about $430,000 each year — is used for local festivals, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The motion to remove the Wine and Food Festival, which was seconded by Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, was defeated by a 1-6 vote. Wade was the only vote in favor of removing the festival from the resolution.

Fred Parry, the Wine and Food Festival organizer, has openly opposed Skala's and Wade's current campaigns. Parry is the publisher of Inside Columbia magazine, which is putting on the festival.

"In my opinion, next month’s municipal elections can’t get here soon enough," noted Parry in the March 2010 issue of Inside Columbia's Prime Magazine. "The opportunity to retire City Council members Jerry Wade and Karl Skala and send them back to private life offers so much hope for the future of our community that I’m counting the days like a child anticipating Christmas.”

During the motion discussion, Skala supported funding the festival.

"It has a potential for a real return on investment," he said.

Wade, however, said the Wine and Food Festival is targeted at a narrow group of people.*

After the deliberation, the resolution to disperse $42,000 among the three festivals passed unanimously:

  • Art in the Park will receive $12,000.
  • Farm to Food will receive $15,000.
  • Wine and Food will receive $15,000.

In other council action:

Indian Hills parking

More parking will be available at Indian Hills Park following $130,000 of renovations.

The council unanimously approved a plan to build a five space cul-de-sac on the east side and a 20-space overflow parking area on the west side of the park.

The Parks and Recreation Department planned to add a lot on the east side of Indian Hills Park to tackle parking concerns spurred by park users parking their vehicles on the street next to the 18-hole disc golf course. When the department sought public comment at a Dec. 15, 2009, meeting, residents expressed fears that the parking lot would lead to loitering and increased vandalism, according to a previous Missourian article. Disc golfers supported the parking lot.

The new plan offers a "workable solution" that satisfies both sides, Skala said. The park is located in the Third Ward.

The project will be funded by a 2005 park sales tax. Other scheduled improvements include a new dog park, playground, two picnic shelters and the renovation of the existing playground and basketball court, according to the report.

Parking garage art

Stuart Keeler will design and create the public art at the Fifth and Walnut Parking Garage.

The council approved Keeler with an unanimous vote. Keeler could be paid up to $110,000 for the project.

The art is part of the The Percent for Art program, which allows for 1 percent of construction or projects to be used for site-specific art.

Keeler was selected out of 260 applicants after a narrowing-down process by the Standing Committee on Public Art.

After Keeler signs a contract with the city, he will begin the design process.

More solar power

The city is closer to meeting its goal of having 1 percent of the total amount of the electricity supply coming from solar power by 2020.

The council authorized a resolution tonight to purchase solar power from Quaker Manufacturing, LLC and Bright City Lights, LLC. Quaker Manufacturing will provide Columbia with an additional 10 kilowatts of power; it already provides 10 kilowatts. Bright City Lights will produce five kilowatts.

Electric customers will have the opportunity of purchasing a 100-kilowatt hour block of solar energy from the city for a yearly cost of $40. Solar power currently costs more for both consumers and the city, though the city hopes costs will fall as solar power becomes more popular.

“I participated in the program last year and it was $48, and this year the cost will be $40,” said Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

This resolution was part of the Solar One project, which aims to help the city produce renewable energy.

Google broadband application

Columbia will officially apply to be a test city for Google's ultra-high speed broadband network. The council unanimously agreed that an application should be filed.

The application, which is due March 26, will be drafted by city staff and residents. About 30 residents, organized by Regional Economic Development Inc., have been meeting weekly to help the city to draft the application said Mike Brooks, the city's director of economic development and president of REDI.

"Google is looking for willing and active community partnership," Robert Simms, the city's director of information technology services said. Simms is responsible for compiling the statistics needed for the application. "It will so much better for the city's response if we had 4,000 (residents') nominations to back it up."

Funding for Central Missouri Humane Society

More than 300 Columbia residents will now have the opportunity to receive vouchers to spay and neuter their pets.

The council voted unanimously Monday to give $20,000 to the Central Missouri Humane Society, which would add sterilization vouchers for 150 dogs and 100 cats to the society's current 150 vouchers. The society will give the vouchers to Animal Control, which will give them to pet owners.

"What we're going to focus on with these vouchers is trying to get them into the hands of people who are lower income, who would not be able to afford even a reduced price to spay and neuter," said Stephanie Browning, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The funding would also go toward vaccinations for up to 800 dogs and licensing for animals that have been in the pound for at least three months. The society will submit reports about redeemed vouchers, provided vaccines, issued licenses and adopted animals on June 30 and Oct. 30.

Six open records were examined for this story: the March 15 council meeting agenda, a report to council by the tourism bureau, the three festivals' applications for tourism development funding and a report to council by the Parks and Recreation Department.

Missourian reporters Alison Gammon, Haotao Xiong, Victoria Guida and Kerri Reynolds contributed to this report.

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hank ottinger March 16, 2010 | 2:08 p.m.

Frankly, I'm surprised that more councilpersons didn't weigh in on the dispersal of funds to these various festivals, particularly the Wine & Food fest. The other two are relatively open functions: there's no admission to the Art in the Park affair--anyone can wander about the booths ogling objets d'art, talking with visiting artists, and so on--for free, no admission. Similarly with the Farm to Food, I believe. But after looking at a brochure for the Wine and Food fest, I realized that I'd have to amp up some serious coin to be a participant. This festival is aimed mostly at the high-rollers in our fair city, as far as I can determine, and warrants little if any funding from the taxpayers.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin March 16, 2010 | 3:13 p.m.

Here's some background on the Wine Fest brouhaha, published this past Sunday:

PARRY IRONY: Mag publisher slams council members who okay big handout

PROMINENT COLUMBIA LAWYER: Targets city council candidates

(Report Comment)

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