- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
The city of Springfield and the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau have reached an agreement on a new 5½-year contract, but some city commissioners are concerned it doesn’t include guarantees for popular events such as Holiday in the City and the Springfield Farmers Market.
The contract is worth about $420,000 annually, but it doesn’t include extra money to put on those events the agency took over from a former nonprofit organization last year, bureau Director Chris Schutte said.
Fundraising has already begun for this year’s holiday event, which will be held on Nov. 25, he said.
“It’s absolutely a go,” Schutte said. “There will be a lot of really great improvements this year.”
Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill expressed concerns the contract doesn’t include two of the major tourism events in the city. The visitor’s bureau verbally told city leaders it would continue those events previously put on by the former Center City Association, but didn’t put it in writing, O’Neill said.
During discussions about cutting the bureau’s share of the lodging tax last year, O’Neill said the agency told the city it needed the money for events like Holiday in the City and the Springfield Farmers Market.
There is no obligation for the CVB to provide those events, City Law Director Jerry Strozdas said.
O’Neill initially wanted commissioners to hold the agreement for two more weeks to ask the visitor’s bureau to put the events into the contract. However, commissioners agreed it was time to put the issue to bed.
The commission unanimously passed the contract, but O’Neill and Mayor Warren Copeland each said said their votes were based “in the spirit of trust.”
“I just need to make it clear that if they don’t want to do it, they can tell us no and still get their money,” O’Neill said. “I don’t like that part of it. I think it’s too loosey. It would be different if we had a pristine relationship going on, but we don’t have that. We’re giving up quite a bit of money from what we have coming in for them to do specific things and I would like to see that in writing.”
The CVB has done a good job with both events, Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said. It asked not to be required to include those events in case fundraising couldn’t be secured for Holiday in the City, he said.
The events were both written into a temporary funding agreement that saw the visitor’s bureau take a $50,000 cut earlier this year because there were threats they weren’t going to do them, Bodenmiller said.
The visitor’s bureau has done a great job expanding those events, including the farmer’s market, said City Commissioner Karen Duncan, who also serves on the CVB’s board.
“I see that as a real feather in the cap almost of the (CVB),” Duncan said. “The board supports what they’ve done. I believe that the board sees the value to the community and the value to the CVB of holding those positions and keeping those events going. I don’t see that as a problem.”
The city cannot hold someone to something if the funding doesn’t come through with sponsorships, said Commissioner Joyce Chilton, who is also a member of the bureau’s board.
“They’re doing everything they can to raise money for this event,” she said. “I’m taking them at their word and they’re taking us at our word.”
Springfield City Commissioner Dan Martin didn’t see any merit in quibbling over that particular language, he said. The city structured the language in case it has economic struggles, Martin said.
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“Frankly, flexibility should be kind of a two-way street,” Martin said. “It’s time to get it done and move on.”
While it’s time to put the contract to bed, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland sent a clear message: If the programs are eliminated, there will be trouble down the road, he said.
The main purpose of the visitor’s bureau is to draw people to the community, said board member Rob Rue, who is also running for a seat on the Springfield City Commission in November.
“These are two hallmark events that they love to put on,” Rue said. “It should be OK because there are no additional funding to do these events in the agreement, it should be OK that they’re not worded in there.”
The CVB is already putting on the events with the money they have and shouldn’t need more money, Copeland said.
“All I can tell you is that when they came down here and beat up on us, they hammered us with that over and over and over again,” he said. “By this document, they’re not standing by the same consideration and that’s a problem. I think we need to communicate that that’s a problem as clearly as possible.”
Holiday in the City and the farmer’s market weren’t included in the last five-year contract, Schutte said.
The bureau has been operating without a contract since June 30, he said, and since that time, several proposals were discussed by the city and the bureau including a funding resolution that can be pulled at any time. The bureau preferred a contract because it provides certainty going forward to allow it to bid on certain events, Schutte said.
“The negotiation progress was very cordial,” he said.
The city keeps about 53 percent of local lodging taxes collected from hotel stays, while about 47 percent goes to the CVB. The contract included no changes to the CVB’s scope of work, Schutte said.
Last year, the bureau lost about $10,000 on Holiday in the City and the farmer’s market combined, he said. The events are completely funded through sponsorship money, Schutte said, including Holiday in the City, which costs about $85,000 to operate annually.
The bureau is a marketing engine for the community and the events are an added bonus, he said.
“We’ve been doing them in good faith and we want to continue doing them in good faith,” Schutte said.
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