MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Maryville Tourism Committee will consider a partnership with Downtown Maryville in which the two organizations would share a full-time director, potentially bringing local businesses and the tourism committee even closer together.
Currently, the tourism committee, which was created after the passage of the city’s transient guest tax in 2016 that added a 5 percent surcharge to hotel bills, has no full-time employees. The day-to-day administration of duties has been handled by the nine-person committee.
Committee president Josh McKim, executive director of Nodaway County Economic Development, said that as more activities begin to open up across the country, the tourism committee is set to accelerate its operations. At last week’s meeting, he said the all-volunteer board would likely be better served by hiring a full-time administrator to handle the workload and give it their full attention.
“You know when we first started in this, we went to some conferences and they said the first two things you need to do is you need to start working on your signage, and hire a full-time person,” McKim said. “We are well on our way to signage; I think it’s time we started investing in a full-time person.”
However, the committee does not currently have a steady enough revenue stream to be able to sustain a full-time position in the long term, committee members agreed.
Budget summaries from the committee show that the transient guest tax has brought in an average of a little more than $212,000 per year over the past three years, although revenue has grown significantly during that time. Despite COVID-19, the transient guest tax brought in the highest yearly revenue to date in FY 2020, driven by record-setting months at the end of 2019 and early 2020 before the pandemic began.
Each year, regardless of revenue, the city must pay $150,000 out of the tourism funds to Northwest Missouri State University as part of the city’s 23-year payment agreement with the university to foot $3.45 million of the bill for the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse.
McKim said that by the end of the current fiscal year, the tourism committee projects to have around $180,000 in reserves available, which he estimated to be enough for two years of a full-time position. After that, he said, it would be difficult to be able to make a guarantee to any candidate that the position would still exist.
Committee member Stephanie Campbell said that the position may be an opportunity for the tourism committee and Downtown Maryville, a small business development group that Campbell is also a member of, to share a full-time administrator. Campbell said that the Downtown Maryville board has discussed the possibility enough previously that she was comfortable saying they would be interested in the idea.
Although details of any such proposal will have to be worked out, the two groups would share an administrator who would split time between both organizations. Both organizations would also split the cost of the position. Any such plan would need to be approved by Downtown Maryville’s board and ultimately, by the Maryville City Council as well. Campbell, owner of Blue Willow Boutique, said she would present a plan at the next tourism meeting in April.
The tourism committee is somewhat unusual among city advisory boards because of its makeup: it is to some degree a public-private partnership, by city order including local business interests who technically advise the city on how best to allocate funding generated by the transient guest tax. However, in practice, those representatives decide themselves where the tax revenue should be spent — and because several board members are leaders of local business groups, thousands of dollars have been appropriated to groups they are associated with.
The close relationship between the tourism committee and local businesses is by design: city ordinance requires that the board be made up of one representative each from the Greater Maryville Chamber of Commerce, Nodaway County Economic Development, what is now Downtown Maryville, Northwest Missouri State University, the city of Maryville and Maryville Parks and Recreation — thought to be the major stakeholders in tourism-oriented activities — though notably missing the target of the tax itself, hotels. In addition, there are three community-at-large seats to complete the nine-member committee.
A possible partnership with Downtown Maryville — an organization already explicitly guaranteed a vote in how tourism decisions are made — would likely strengthen further the already strong ties between the tourism committee and locally owned businesses, though committee members have been steadfast in their view that the committee should have a wider focus than assisting local businesses.
On several occasions over the past six months, multiple Maryville business owners have petitioned the committee to increase its efforts in promoting businesses, but they were often rebuffed by committee members — particularly by McKim, who stressed that the committee’s primary purpose is to promote visitors to the city, especially those who stay overnight, not just retail shoppers.
Nonetheless, the committee has issued $7,000 over that period to local business groups for promotional use: $5,000 in October for the Shop Small, Uniquely Nodaway campaign; $1,000 to the Make It Maryville group for social media advertising in October; and another $1,000 to the group in January for the same purpose but with the directive it be expanded to any interested, local brick-and-mortar businesses.
Make It Maryville is a group of businesses that pool resources to promote each other and hold special events.
The Shop Small, Uniquely Nodaway campaign was an eight-week initiative organized by the Greater Maryville Chamber of Commerce and Nodaway County Economic Development to drive foot traffic at local businesses. The executive directors of both those organizations, Lily White and McKim, sit on the tourism committee as required by city ordinance.
Additionally, City Manager Greg McDanel’s role on the board as a voting member — even listed by the city’s tourism website as chairman of the committee — also appears unusual. As a voting member of the board, McDanel helps set policy — including spending — but also is in charge of tourism operations since it falls under the city’s umbrella. The only current staff exclusive to the tourism committee, an intern and a second internship that has not yet been filled, report to McDanel — making him the de facto head of the “tourism department.”
The tourism committee is the only city advisory board on which the person primarily charged with carrying out the policy set by the board also sits on the board itself — a potential conflict usually avoided on most public boards, though McDanel is not employed by the board. Instead, he oversees all city operations.
The ordinance does not specify who the city representative must be. Like all other boards that advise and report to the City Council, a non-voting council representative is also a member of the tourism committee — currently Rachael Martin.
“Ideally, there would be a city representative that would not be me,” McDanel told The Forum.
He said that at some point, he would like to remove the city representative seat from the board and have it replaced with another community member appointment.
“All the tourism committee is, is an advisory board for the City Council,” McDanel said. “So, whether I’m a staff member or if it’s as a board position, I’m still giving my recommendations and advice, this just provides a little more oversight for the board as we get started in our infancy.”
Other than the $7,000 to local business groups, the only other grant money given out by the committee has been to the Nodaway County Historical Society, McDanel said.
He said the recent focus on local businesses has been due to the pandemic and the ensuing slowdown of tourism across the country.
“Small business isn’t our prime target market,” McDanel said. “The challenge with that is, that’s what’s held everybody together through COVID. Outside of the windmill workers, there hasn’t been a lot of real push in the tourism industry in any direction to bring in people. Our main focus, post-COVID, will be on bringing events, people, from out of this region into Maryville — and that’s where our advertising dollars should go.”
McDanel said during last week’s meeting that it would be important to have clear duties outlined for any shared leadership position between the tourism committee and Downtown Maryville to ensure taxpayer money was being spent appropriately.
Other tourism notes
- At its meeting last week, the committee approved a $30,000 marketing budget for the rest of the fiscal year.
- The committee approved a recommendation to the City Council to appoint Bryan Dulin to a vacant community-at-large seat. Dulin is general manager at Cobblestone Inn and Suites. The council will still need to approve the appointment.