Urbana may cut funding for Visitors Bureau

As Urbana debates its budget for the next fiscal year, one of its main questions is whether it will fill two vacancies on the police force. Now that the city council has decided to fill them, the question has become how the city will fund the two police officers’ salaries.

One proposal would cut Urbana’s funding to the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB, which was at $71,820 for this fiscal year. The issue was brought to a head at last week’s meeting when Mayor Laurel Prussing issued a rare mayoral line-item veto on the budget to cut all funding to the bureau.

City council will have a chance to override the veto, which would require five of the seven council members to vote against the mayor, during its next city council meeting July 11.

Brandon Bowersox, Ward 4, said he plans to vote to override the veto and give the bureau the same amount of funding it had last year because it provides a valuable function to the Urbana area. He also said the city may have to consider raising the hotel/motel tax — currently at 5 percent — to help with funding.

“From what I have heard from hotel operators, they would have us keep funding the CVB, even if that means increasing the hotel/motel tax,” he said.

Adam Friederich, general manager at the Comfort Inn in Urbana, agreed that the bureau provides a valuable service to the hotel — bringing in 13 percent of room nights so far this year, amounting to about 113,000 rooms. He added that the bureau helps bring big events to the area that help fill hotel rooms, including the Illinois Marathon, the Illinois High School Theater Festival and the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament.

If the city were to cut funding to the bureau, he said, it would hurt his business quite a bit.

This contradicts some of what Prussing has said at past city council meetings.

During the meeting on June 20, Prussing said she spoke to many hotel managers and operators who could not quantify the effect the bureau has on their businesses. She also said she feels that many of the rooms the bureau takes credit for filling would have been filled without them, as many people who visit Urbana do so because of the University.

Jayne DeLuce, president of the CVB, said it would be a challenge if Urbana cut funding, but the bureau would continue to be the certified marketing organization for the area.

The bureau would continue to receive funding from other bodies, such as the city of Champaign, the University and Champaign County.

“Tourism is a revenue generator, and we want to continue to provide that economic development and bring in those revenues for the Champaign County area,” DeLuce said.

Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said the issue ultimately comes down to financing the city’s budget and finding money for the two police officers.

“What I do think is important going forward, no matter what we do, is for us to get a better handle on exactly what money is being spent on and how effective it is,” she said.