Keystone Centre general manager Neil Thomson hopes the city will adjust its accommodation tax bylaw to allow funding for capital projects and facility upgrades.
"The facility hasn’t been properly funded, capital-wise, for a long period of time," he said. "So I think us having access to monies out of this fund would be great."
The city will soon launch a new committee to review the current bylaw, as recommended by Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond).
"We have yet to utilize a single penny to capital projects since (the accommodation tax) was brought in," Montague said at this week’s council meeting. "Council’s view … was that we were interested in looking at ways to utilize the funds for major economic draws such as the Keystone Centre and other funding needs that don’t necessarily qualify under the existing criteria."
Brandon’s hotel tax has been in place since July 2012, which adds $3.15 per night to a guest’s bill. The goal is to provide grants for tourism initiatives, particularly for attracting or keeping events in Brandon.
Under the current bylaw, there are two streams of accommodation tax grants — for events, and for capital funding. In order to be eligible for capital funding, it has to be directly tied to an event. In 2013, there were no capital funding requests.
City treasurer Dean Hammond presented council with the accommodation tax 2013 annual report this week. There was roughly $690,000 collected in hotel tax in 2013. Out of 21 applications, 19 were approved for some level of funding.
Roughly $89,000 were given out in initial payments. The applicant gets partial funding up front, and following the event the second part of funding is given out. If all commitments are met, then the total amount of funding issued under the program in 2013 will be $278,000.
The payout ratio is climbing — it went from 6.5 per cent in 2012, to 40.2 per cent in 2013.
The new committee will undertake a review of capital funding from the accommodation tax, and will provide a report and recommendation to city council by June 30. The review should include, but not be limited to capital funding for the Keystone Centre, arts and culture, and heritage.
"The intent with the accommodation tax when we brought it in was of course not to be putting everything into capital … but it was to hopefully use it to possibly build things or use it to fix things that would spur events," said Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes). "It’s an aspect that’s there but we haven’t used it, or we haven’t touched on it yet, and maybe it’s because we’re too restrictive in the way the wording is with the accommodation tax bylaw."
The Keystone is Brandon’s major centre for events, and Berry said due to the structure and size, it’s a facility that needs the "most money and the most work."
"It’s where we can hold our huge events that most other places couldn’t have," Berry said. "A lot of those events are put on by other organizations that happen to rent the Keystone to put them on."
Thomson said it’s hard to know where to draw the line regarding what makes something "directly tied to an event."
"A chair, is that part of an event or not part of an event? If you have a large convention, it certainly creates a better impression if a client is comfortable versus on a folding metal chair," he said.
The Keystone would also like to improve the outdoor area where the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Festival is located.
"The stage area is pretty poor and we’d really like to improve that," he said. "So for that one … if we build it better we’ll be able to maybe attract or have more outdoor concerts."
As for economic benefits, Thomson pointed to a recent study that shows the Keystone Centre generates at least $62 million for the local economy annually. The study was conducted by Brandon University professors Doug Ramsey and Derrek Eberts.
"I think we’ve demonstrated … that the facility brings in a lot of economic activity, and we do need some of the basics … to look after our clients when they’re here, and that could easily include chairs and tables and roofs that don’t leak," Thomson said.
But not everyone is pleased to see the accommodation tax capital funding under review.
Dave Carriere, president of Westman Accommodations Group, said any changes to the bylaw would be "detrimental."
"We weren’t happy (hotel tax) was being collected, period," he said.
But since it did go forward, Carriere said WAG felt the best way to use the funds was how it is outlined in the current bylaw — to attract new events or maintain current events, to bring tourists to Brandon.
"To me this is a really short-sighted thing that they’re even contemplating," he said. "I’m wondering why they think that they need to change something already. You can’t evaluate something like this in just a small … period. In my opinion it needs a longer time."
Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development, said her bias always leans to economic growth.
"What are we doing that will generate an increased economic return for the city?" she said. "Whether it be event funding or capital funding, if you’re tying it to an event, you know that the economic outcome is going to happen."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 8, 2014