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‘We are an anomaly,’ tourism leader says

March 12, 2013

Business Improvement District fee on fast track

The push for a Business Improvement District fee on tourism-based businesses in Mammoth is so radically different from other California models that tourism chief John Urdi said the town stands alone.

“We’re an anomaly here,” Urdi said on Wednesday March 6, in a short presentation to the Town Council.

Speaking at a workshop in advance of the council’s regular meeting, Urdi said of the 74 so-called TBIDs in place throughout California, all of them are purely lodging-based.

In Mammoth, though, Urdi has proposed a 0.5 percent surcharge of everything and anything that is based on tourism, and that means anything from sport shops to restaurants.

The revenues from the TBID would go straight into the town’s general fund to help bolster Mammoth’s budget for air service and marketing, which took a header in the town’s recent financial restructuring.

“We’ll have an appeal process,” Urdi said, “but I find it very hard to believe that any restaurant can prove that the majority of their business comes from 93546.”

Councilman Rick Wood said such a cooperative effort by the business community and the town could not have happened before now.

“I think people were willing, but they wanted to know if they were going to spend money, what it was going to be used for,” Wood said.

Urdi said that legacy level of mistrust has been the main sticking point in what some businesses still regard as a tourist tax, even though technically it is not.

“Had we tried to launch this within even the first year I was here,” said Urdi, “we would not have had the trust of the businesses. Right now, I think people in town realize what we’ve done to bring traffic here. We appreciate that trust, and obviously we want to expand on that.”

The next step, he said, is to meet with business owners on Tuesday, March 12, to work on the plan.

“Once we have the finalization of how exactly we’re going to go about this, who’s going to be involved, we’ll take it to the petition step. Once we achieve the 51 percent of the votes, we’ll come back to you to talk about our resolution and intent. That’s where we start the process with the Town Council.”

In the meantime, Urdi said he has a wide-open door for feedback or comments.

“I’m more than happy to sit down and talk to anyone about the particulars and where we’re headed with it at this point.”

It is not just locals who have a stake in this, he said.

On Tuesday, March 5, Urdi said he conducted a breakfast meeting with owners of “some of the larger businesses in town,” along with Caroline Beteta, the president and CEO of VisitCalifornia.

“The majority of the funding of California Tourism comes from rental cars—81 percent of their $50 million budget. The remaining budget comes from assessments from businesses within California.

“She’s interested in what we’re doing here because the TBID we’re working on is incredibly unique,” Urdi said.

The payoff, Urdi said to the Town Council, can be illustrated by the success, so far, of the TBID in Napa Valley.

“They put a TBID in place in July 2010. It was just on lodging, but in three years since then, they’ve seen their TOT go from $8 million to $11.3 million—a 38 percent increase in TOT.

“It’s been successful for them and for the other cities that have put these in place.”

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