Visitors center likely to shut its doors

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

The days may be numbered for the Calaveras Visitors Center in downtown Angels Camp.

The Calaveras Visitors Bureau, whose office is in the Visitors Center on South Main Street, faces the end of its lease in October. If the bureau chooses to stay, it may face a monthly bill of more than $2,000 from its landlord, the City of Angels Camp.

It is a price bureau officials say they cannot afford.

"The board needs to determine if operating a visitors center, at an

increased cost, fits the overall future of the CVB," said Darrell

Slocum, bureau president. "It appears likely the Calaveras Visitors

Bureau will be relocating prior to Oct. 1 as a result of a significant

increase in cost from the City of Angels."

That cost increase would come if the city follows through in asking

for $2,000 in rent plus janitorial and supply costs when a 10-year

lease, now granting the Visitors Bureau the space as an in-kind

contribution, ends.

Tourism officials estimate paying these costs would increase the bureau's annual operating expenses from $35,000 to $85,000.

The city has not made its demand for rent official, noted Mayor

Jack Lynch, but it is one of many options that will be considered to

close an estimated $1 million city budget shortfall. Budget meetings

will take place after the city finishes ongoing labor negotiations with

its employees.

A substantial number of department heads have been terminated or

retired without being replaced, including the police and fire chiefs,

Lynch said.

Funding for community involvement endeavors like the Angels Camp

Business Association, the Angels branch library and the Visitors Bureau

are among many items the city will have to explore in making further

cuts, he said.

"We have to close that gap that we have. Things that have been

normal and routine in the past have to considered," the mayor said.

"The Visitors Center doesn't want to be affected and neither does

anybody else. We feel so badly about it because tourism is so important

to creating employment and revenue activities. We applaud them for all

their activities. We just love them."

The CVB contends that the "Agreement for Promotion of Tourism"

signed by the city in 2003 secures both funding for the visitors bureau

and the rent-free use of the visitors center.

"The CVB will not pursue any legal action at this time. However,

the option remains open especially if our designated share of the TOT

(transient occupancy tax) comes into question," Slocum said.

The Visitors Bureau helped campaign for a successful 2003 county

ballot measure that enacted a 4 percentage-point increase in the TOT,

charged to hotel and motel visitors in the city. Under the measure's

terms, one-third of the increased tax revenues goes to the Visitors

Bureau.

If the CVB indeed moves its offices in the fall, a new location

"remains to be determined," said Office Manager Ginger Malatesta.

"We're entertaining ideas at this point."

Slocum adds that "some of our very supportive members have

suggested several locations, in various areas of the county, and we are

appreciative of the support. It's nice to have options, however, moving

is very disruptive and our preference would be to stay at our current

location."

A visitors center might not be a part of the CVB's efforts if it moves.

"While the Visitors Center is a very visible component of the CVB's

operation, the reality is that it is just one small part of what we do.

The primary charter of the CVB is to market Calaveras County outside

our area," Slocum said. "The board needs to determine if operating a

visitors center, at an increased cost, fits the overall future of the

CVB."

Tourism officials suggest the city may be cutting off its nose to

spite its face in looking to close its budget gap by charging the CVB

rent.

"The Calaveras Visitors Bureau has seen 13,000-plus visitors in

2008 and 2009," Malatesta said. "To date, we've seen over 9,000

visitors this year so we're on track to increase our traffic this year."

In addition, the CVB has received "feedback from downtown-area

businesses regarding the favorable impact that traffic has on their

business" and has actively showcased Angels Camp as a tourist

destination, Slocum said.

If the Visitors Center closes its doors, the Highway 49 rest stop

it operates, a Caltrans requirement, will not close with it but instead

become a responsibility of the city to maintain, Lynch said.

Contact Sean Janssen at sjanssen@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4531.

11814109
The Union Democrat
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