The Hope Tourism Commission met Tuesday via conference telephone call. Following the approval of the minutes, the board moved on to April revenue. The 2% tax on lodging and prepared food brought in $47,245 in March. There was some confusion on whether this was correct or the proper amount was nearer $42,000. City Manager Catherine Cook said she would get that cleared up. Board member Trevor Coffee had a question about payroll and Cook explained that covers the Visitors Information Center staff as well as the park director and park staff who put in time on tourism as part of their jobs. Dr. Coffee asked to whether there have been letters to some of the restaurants who may have not payed their tourism tax receipts this year. Several were named and also new food trucks were discussed including Pancho’s and Taco Mayo. It was noted the Pineapple Tree truck owner has gone to Oregon. Vice-Mayor Don Still suggested that food trucks that belong to restaurants should pay their tax in with their restaurant fees if those trucks are on restaurant property. Also there was a question about the Wal-Mart Subway and it was noted it was not open right now. The commission then voted to approve the financial statement.
The commission moved on to an agenda item about permits. Mayor Steve Montgomery suggested that food trucks that are operated by a restaurant pay on the restaurant’s permit. Sharon Caldwell said an effort will be made to check on the food trucks.
Sharon Caldwell noted there are new banners for downtown. The cost for them are $6,606 and the commission is paying $3,304 on them.
Gary Chambless and Charlton Luker asked about the courthouse tax and if the commission is considering reducing the tourism tax since that has been passed. Mayor Montgomery noted the Hempstead county is at 12.5 per cent for lodging and prepared food. That compares to around 13% in Texarkana, 13,325% in Magnolia, and 10% in Malvern. Mayor Montgomery says he thinks they need to give it some time to see if it affects lodging. Luker said when the courthouse tax goes into effect, it will put Hope lodging and food over 14%. Luker said it is affecting their business. Luker also pointed out the towns with comparable taxes have more to offer travelers than Hope. Luker said if people who are regular customers to Hope hotels move to other towns they probably won’t come back. Dr. Coffee asked if reducing the tourism tax by 1% would make a difference, Luker said he thinks it would. Luker said they already hear from customers who complain about the tax rate. Also Luker said he doesn’t promote drinking but the lack of package stores hurts us. Luker said “we’re taxing ourselves out of business”. Vice-Mayor Still said he knows the COVID situation has been hard on hotels and he’s not against some relief. Luker also noted they recently did a $1.5 million dollar improvement to the Holiday Inn and also did some major work to the Hampton Inn. Sharon Caldwell says she sees how many people come to eat in the restaurants and how important it is. Mayor Montgomery said he wants to see hard facts and what kind of effect it is going to have. Luker noted the tourism tax is producing a surplus and the courthouse tax is for two years. Luker says he doesn’t see why they can’t see some relief if the tourism funds are at a surplus. Mayor Montgomery noted those funds are to be invested into Hope to aid tourism. Luker noted again the importance of hotels to the restaurants. Vice-Mayor Still noted the hotels have been hurt over the last two months and he suggested reducing the tourism tax for six months. Catherine Cook noted a reduction would have to be voted on by the City Board. Vice-Mayor Still asked what the Tourism Commission recommends. Milko Smith suggested tabling the matter as the courthouse tax hasn’t even started. Smith said everyone is hurting nationwide and worldwide. Smith emphasized they don’t even know what the effect of the courthouse tax will be. Babu Patel said the governor restricting out of state visitors has hurt motels. Smith asked Luker what he thinks about six months. Luker said that would be a compromise and things may change by then. Luker said the tax doesn’t just affect out of town people but local people as well. He suggested they might want to look as reducing it. Vice-Mayor Still said he agreed with the Mayor that they need to look at the courthouse tax when it goes into effect. The commission decided to wait at least until the next meeting before taking any action and approved this by a motion.
The Commission heard from Paul Henley. He noted the officers of Arkansas’s Great Southwest Regional Tourism Association were on the line the meeting. Henley noted the Great Southwest has some extra funds available at the end of their fiscal year and wants to possibly fund a billboard for the city of Hope and to help promote the Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site. Henley wanted to know if the Tourism Commission wanted to take advantage of this offer. This would also include some help towards a Hope brochure. Henley said the AGSW has about $15,000 in matching funds to offer. He said it’s obvious that Hope needs help on the hotels. Vice-Mayor Still said they are currently working on a billboard between Hope and Texarkana and could AGSW help with that. Henley said they could. Some of the wording would have to be approved by the state. Discussion was aimed at now doing a brochure and buying two billboards. Beckie Moore asked if this could also pertain to the Watermelon Festival. Henley noted the Watermelon Festival funding will come from the next fiscal year but he says it could be included in the copy. Henley cited an existing billboard in Hope and noted it would be great on the interstate. Henley noted speed is of the essence. The Commission voted to go into an agreement with AGSW on two billboards, a newsletter, and a USA Today ad for the Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site.
Beckie Moore gave an update on the Watermelon Festival. She noted they are awaiting directives from the state on larger gatherings but they have to continue to plan if they hope to have it August 6th to 8th. She said the theme is “All Juiced Up”. She said she has been talking to the chairmen of the events. She said they are getting increased calls from vendors. Moore said this time is normally when they seek sponsors. The headline act has been postponed to 2021. Moore said they had secured a strong opening act. Moore said they were requesting the Tourism Commission’s usual $10,000 in sponsorship. Vice-Mayor Still thinks it will be a big festival because by then the public will be ready to get out. Moore said they have been approached by the folks who do the tiller races in Emerson. That festival was cancelled and the Emerson folks want to have the tiller races in Hope. Moore says they are trying to find out if they can get insurance coverage. She also said she understood it would be for one year and there are concerns if the tiller races could secure their sponsors. The commission voted to fund the Watermelon Festival’s $10,000 sponsorship.