Wednesday, October 27, 2010

‘Rome is burning and we’re fiddling’

Public expresses impatience with Sun Valley leaders for stalling funding to marketing board


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

The public and even Ketchum city leaders expressed their impatience with the Sun Valley City Council on Thursday for its merry-go-round arguments about funding the marketing alliance.

"Rome is burning and we're fiddling," said Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.'s director of resort development to the council at its meeting. "If you don't do something, nothing will get done."

Sun Valley and Ketchum each unanimously decided this summer to allocate $400,000 in their budgets to the marketing board, which would use the money to promote the resort area. However, the Sun Valley City Council has since then become divided due to the board's merger with the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, forming the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance. Councilmen Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman have both said the visitors bureau, the area's previous promoter, is to blame for Sun Valley's decade-long tourism decline and should not be attached to the marketing board.

Huffman and others defended the chamber. Huffman said it's "disingenuous" to blame the chamber for the tourism drought when the area lost 350 hotel rooms. He said a promoter is only as good as its product.

"I encourage you to take a leap of faith [and fund the marketing board]," Huffman told the council, adding that the board's structure won't be perfect in the beginning but can be tweaked along the way.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall advocated the same course of action.

"I just see an opportunity here to move the marketing strategy until we find the structure," Hall said, emphasizing that the area has a great deal at its feet.

San Francisco marketing firm Eleven Inc.—which works for Apple and now Sun Valley Resort—has offered to draft the area's marketing plan for $24,000. Marketing board President Jake Peters has said this is a steal made possible because the firm has been working with the resort for four months and has already done its research of the area.

Youngman argued against buying a marketing plan if the group that would put it to work, the marketing board, is poorly structured and therefore destined to fail.

"No matter which way it goes [with the marketing board], we can use the plan," Hall argued.

Hall and the entire Ketchum City Council sat in the audience Thursday. Ketchum has stuck to its support for the marketing board but has been waiting for Sun Valley to make its move, because the board has said a mere $400,000 from Ketchum won't go far.

Thursday's meeting was the latest of several over the past two months in which the Sun Valley council has debated the topic with no consensus reached. However, Thursday's meeting was the first at which the public weighed in and the marketing board itself made a presentation.

Scott Montgomery, Sun Valley's representative on the marketing board, put forth some optional changes—also presented to Ketchum's council on Oct. 18—to address Ribi's and Youngman's concerns.

Montgomery said an alternative structure would be to make the marketing board an independent legal entity that would contract for service with the chamber to operate the visitor center and plan events.

He also said a full-time marketing director would be hired to run the marketing and be accountable for the spending and results.

However, Youngman said, he wants that person to be hired and proven qualified in resort marketing before any money is handed over.

"I cannot in good faith offer money to a leaderless organization," he said.

Marketing board member Zach Crist pointed out that no one would take the job without any assurance that there's money available to pay him or her.

"You're putting the cart before the horse," he said.

Sun Valley Councilman Dewayne Briscoe advised Youngman and Ribi to allow compromises in structure to get the marketing board off the ground.

"We've got a ping-pong ball being hit back and forth between the two councils," Briscoe said. "Rather than look at our differences, let's start looking for compromises."

Thursday's meeting ended without compromise, but a joint meeting was set between the mayors and two council members from each city for Oct. 26. The meeting does not legally constitute a quorum of council members and was closed to the public. It is intended to reach a joint-city consensus on what will be needed for both cities to fund the $24,000 marketing plan and the marketing board as a whole afterward.

"We're locking you in," said Doug Brown, executive director of the Wood River Economic Partnership, a nonprofit group consisting of area business owners.

Whether a consensus is reached will be revealed in a special Sun Valley council meeting on Friday, Oct. 28, at 2 p.m.

"Go get a six-pack and let's get it done," marketing board member Montgomery told the cities in a raised voice.

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Sun Valley drafting new event-funding method

As a result of marketing board discussions, Sun Valley City Councilmen Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman have drafted a new method for funding events, such as the Sun Valley Nordic Festival, which are seen as the best way to attract visitors. The new method was presented Thursday and would require event planners to fill out an eight-page application detailing all their spending and income. Moreover, the city would require event planners to prove that their event would "help grow the local-option tax," meaning spending by visitors for lodging, shopping or dining out.

The new method would also cut off funding to events after five years and reduce the amount of money they're eligible for each year up to then. Event planners would be eligible for up to $5,000 the first and second years they ask for money, which would slide down to a $1,000 maximum the fifth and final year. Youngman said that's meant to promote self-sufficiency. However, Councilwoman Joan Lamb argued, these limits are unnecessary, and the values seem arbitrary.

"I don't think it helps or adds anything," she said.

Ribi and Youngman said the maximum number of years and funding can change, but maximums should be set. The council and mayor decided to not make a decision on the new method but will think about the details.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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