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October 25, 2012

Economic council pitches sports tourism project

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The Greater Oneonta Economic Development Council has asked for town and city municipal support for a sports-based tourism project, with proposed funding through $84,000 in Otsego County occupancy tax revenues next year.

The council has proposed forming a commission, tentatively called the Greater Oneonta Sports’ Boosters, to foster growth of sports tourism, according to a document outlining the initiative. The proposal, which includes a 2013 calendar of planned and possible events, is the basis for a funding request for $84,000 from county bed tax income.

GO-EDC organizer Albert Colone said he has been presenting the plan to businesses and boards.

The concept has met with mixed, though outwardly supportive, reactions from the town and city governing boards.

However, the county treasurer said Wednesday, that though the proposal is good, funding the project next year is unlikely because of budget constraints.

Treasurer Dan Crowell said funding GO-EDC’s project would cut too deeply into other programs, including services for the aging population and Otsego Manor, the county’s nursing home, among other departments.

“There’s not a department where we’re not making a cut this year — for the third year in a row,” Crowell said.

Of the $1.2 million in bed tax revenues, about half goes to tourism projects, such as bundled advertising, primarily through the Otsego County Tourism office, Crowell said, and another portion goes to support services such as maintaining roads and public safety related to the tourism industry.

The county faces rising expenses for employee benefits, health insurance and retirement cost, Crowell said. Though bed tax revenues have grown modestly in recent years, he said, those costs have an impact on bed tax budgeting, and “there isn’t much room to expand right now.”

Colone said the sports tourism initiative meets the intent of the bed tax program and would be an ideal use of those revenues. Crowell is the ``bottom-line guy for the county,’’ Colone said, and the Otsego County Board of Representatives should take a visionary role and approve the plan for the long-term benefit of the county.

“I can understand the severe economic conditions the county is under,” Colone said. Most county representatives are aware of the proposal, Colone said, and he said he hopes to be invited to a meeting of the full board to ``defend it tooth and nail.”

In September, Colone presented the proposal to the board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and requested bed tax revenues. The committee took no action, according to minutes.

At its Oct. 16 meeting, the Oneonta Common Council approved a motion to support GO-EDC’s sports-based tourism program “in all ways appropriate.” The motion didn’t include any funding.

Oneonta Town Supervisor Robert Wood said the Oneonta Town Board wasn’t sure what type of action to take regarding the proposal when Colone spoke to the board at a recent meeting. The idea is good but needs to be more focused, Wood said, and there is concern that the commission isn’t a formally established organization.

The Town Board does support the concept in general, Wood said, and the proposal is likely to be revisited at a future meeting.

The commission would work in “tight coordination” with the Otsego County Tourism office, the proposal said, and would have an independent advisory panel to include members from town, city and county governing boards.

The proposal said it would not be unreasonable to have a dynamic year-round agenda of sports programs within five years if a sports commission were formed. The programs could attract 800 to 1,000 new customers each weekend when fully in place, the proposal said, and generate $70,000 to $90,000 each weekend in additional travel revenue. The proposal also cites examples of increased tourism income and sales tax and bed tax revenues.

The initiative aims to involve local youth, club, recreational, semi-professional and fitness organizations and their games, tournaments, events and other activities.

The proposed budget expenses include $32,500 for a personnel services/director, $25,000 for regional media advertising, $10,000 for equipment and supplies to support event organizers, among other expenses.

On the revenue side, the proposal lists $5,000 in sponsorships, gifts and grants in addition to the bed taxes and question marks for income from the city and town of Oneonta.

GO-EDC’s next meeting will be at the Hampton Inn in Oneonta at 4 p.m. Nov. 20, Colone said.