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Columbia Hospitality Association debates funding, structure of department merger

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | 5:26 p.m. CDT; updated 5:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 29, 2011

COLUMBIA — The proposed merger between the city's Office of Cultural Affairs and the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau was debated Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Columbia Hospitality Association.

Members questioned the timing of the merger because the bureau has been under transitional leadership since the previous director, Lorah Steiner, left in February.

Department functions

The Convention and Visitors Bureau works to attract tourists to the area, according to the bureau's website. It creates travel media, organizes group tours and markets the area to businesses as a convention destination. The Columbia Hospitality Association, which includes area hotel representatives, works closely with the bureau.

The Office of Cultural Affairs' goal is to cultivate Columbia's culture by supporting artistic endeavors throughout the area, according to the city's website.



“We’re not trying to squash the new ideas,” said Susan Bell, general manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites Columbia. “The bad part was the timing when we lost a director of 24 years who had built a strong organization.”

City Manager Mike Matthes said he sees the possible merger as an “opportunity for great synergy — although it seems like I might be the only one.”

The Convention and Visitors Bureau works to attract tourists to the area, according to the bureau's website. It creates travel media, organizes group tours and markets the area to businesses as a convention destination. The Columbia Hospitality Association, which includes area hotel representatives, works closely with the bureau.

The Office of Cultural Affairs' goal is to cultivate Columbia's culture by supporting artistic endeavors throughout the area, according to the city's website.

Funding was also discussed.

“We’re all for the new ideas and new events,” Bell said. “That’s not the issue. We’re a strong bureau that is funded by the hotel tax, and we’re very passionate about how we spend that money.”

Matthes said the idea of merging the two departments was introduced before he was appointed city manager May 1. Although he said it was likely introduced to save money, he sees it as more than that.

“When I was told about the idea, I liked it a lot, not just from a budget perspective but from the perspective of what we can do,” Matthes said.

He cited Austin, Texas, and Lexington, Ky., as cities that have used vibrant art scenes to attract tourism revenue.

“They do that from a remarkable partnership across the city,” Matthes said.

Matthes said the merger is a great opportunity to make Columbia “a city of the arts.”

Amy Schneider, acting director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the merger is still in the early stages of investigation.

“At this time, the possible merger is just a possibility, an exploration by the city manager’s office,” Schneider said. “There are a lot of people in the arts and hotel community that are against this idea, but at this time, my job is to just look at the possible ways this can be done."

If this project is approved by the Columbia City Council, Matthes said the merger will happen soon after.

“I hate waiting,” Matthes said. “I want to reach a decision in July after some input and get moving after that.”


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Comments

John Schultz June 30, 2011 | 9:51 a.m.

Can anyone explain why the city even has an Office of Cultural Affairs? Doesn't seem like the typical task local government should be undertaking, especially with all the "artsy" folks and organizations Columbia has living here.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance June 30, 2011 | 11:55 a.m.

Columbia does it so they can have Libertarians like yourself whine about government.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2011 | 12:52 p.m.

Glad to see the summer heat is getting to your liberal sensibilities on spending the taxpayer's money, Tim. Do you need directions to the nearest government cooling center?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 30, 2011 | 12:54 p.m.

Oh, and if you want to explain why tax money should be spent on the arts instead of letting folks like the Columbia Art League, Missouri Theater, various art galleries, and individual artists, please do so instead of being your usual snipy self. Have a government-approved day!

(Report Comment)

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