Tourism Council turns down Chamber

Fri, 04/16/2021 - 10:15am
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On Tuesday, April 13, the Block Island Tourism Council denied a request for additional money to fund the Visitors Center for the summer of 2021. The Tourism
Council has already committed to half the funding for the “tourism ambassadors” that provide the public with information at the center in Old Harbor.
Last month, Block Island Chamber of Commerce Director Lars Trodson came to the Tourism Council with a request for $25,000 to fully fund wages for the workers. The Tourism Council agreed to fund half of the amount in their fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021. They suggested that some of the money that comes from dues paid by businesses to join the Chamber be used for the purpose, and they also suggested talking to the town for funding.

The Visitors Center has become a responsibility shared between the Chamber, the Tourism Council, and the Town of New Shoreham and the conversation around funding is one that reoccurs each year at budget time.
Trodson appealed to the Town for the remaining $12,500 but was denied, and First Warden Andre Boudreau suggested he go back to the Tourism Council for the rest of the money. The town does however provide $10,000 in its budget for support of the center in the form of waived rent.

On April 13, the Tourism Council again denied additional funding. The reasoning was, for the most part, the same. But some went further, pointing out that the town leases out several properties to businesses. Member Logan Mott Chase said those businesses don’t ask for their rent to be waived because they can’t pay their bills. Two examples are the Transfer Station, leased by Block Island Recycling Management, and the concession area at the Fred Benson Town Beach pavilion.
Tourism Council member John Cullen said that, while he doesn’t “mean any disrespect to the Chamber,” he had two points to make. The first one was that a couple of
years ago there was a Chamber meeting and then-director of the Chamber, Cindy Lasser, said the Chamber was operating at a deficit and she asked if there was support
for raising dues.
There was support, according to Cullen, and dues went up 40 percent. “Fast forward two years later” said Cullen, and the town is contributing $10,000 and the “Chamber isn’t paying a penny.” He recalled that when asked last month, Trodson said he thought approximately 90 percent of the businesses on Block Island were Chamber members.
“I don’t know if they can’t pay or don’t want to,” Cullen continued. “We haven’t seen a budget.”
Member Julie Fuller said she agreed with what both Chase and Cullen said. “I totally support the Chamber,” said Fuller, and said the business she works for – the National Hotel – is a member that benefits from the Chamber. However, she said that the Chamber also benefits financially, beyond the collection of dues, by having a prime location in Old Harbor. Additional money is made from retail sales, locker rentals and ATM fees from a machine there.
“Are we capable of helping? Yes,” said Fuller. “But the Chamber needs to have some skin in the game.”
Trodson said additional funding “was kicked back to you by the Town Council. We want to be a partner with the Tourism Council.”
“So where to we go from here?” asked Tourism Chair Dave Houseman. “We did discuss half now and half later,” he said.
Executive Director Jessica Willi reminded him that the $12,500 approved last month was in the upcoming budget, which was up for approval at the meeting, and that the Tourism Council had already approved and given the Chamber $10,000 in the current fiscal year. That money was requested by Lasser in November, and was to help
fund salaries in the summer of 2020.
The Tourism Council adopted its budget without funding the additional money for the Chamber, but did say Trodson could come back later and ask again.
The members also thought that perhaps there were other ways they could assist the Chamber, besides just giving them money. Chase said she was sure Trodson “had lots
of great ideas” for other things the Chamber could do. “We’re all cheering them on,” she said.
“Yes,” said Trodson, “we have a lot of
ideas.”