PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce has a new contract and more funding to operate the visitor center at 121 E. Railroad Ave.
The City Council voted 7-0 last week to approve a three-year contract extension that will pay the chamber $97,224 per year to operate the Port Angeles Visitor Center in the small brick building near The Landing mall.
The previous annual rate was $74,600 — a difference of $22,624 — for rent, staff, supplies, postage and other fixed costs.
“I don’t believe we’ve had a significant increase in that allocation for a long time,” Council member Mike French said in a council meeting last Tuesday.
“As we see an influx of tourists and more things that we’re asking of them, I do think that that’s a reasonable request.”
The allocation for the visitor center was part of a $732,482 lodging tax spending package the council approved for the 2019 budget.
That spending includes $234,358 for marketing services, $105,000 for events and event support, $77,000 for parks, $50,000 for the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, $17,000 for the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club, $55,475 for BMX track improvement and $16,992 for the Feiro Marine Life Center.
The city’s lodging tax fund is supported by a 4 percent consumer tax on stays at Port Angeles hotels, motels and licensed bed and breakfast establishments. The tax is taken as a credit against the 6.5 percent state sales tax.
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee makes recommendations to put “heads in beds” by encouraging overnight stays for those traveling at least 50 miles to Port Angeles.
LTAC recommended the 2019 expenditures by unanimous vote Oct. 10.
“All in all, I think these are really great recommendations and I’m happy to approve them,” French said in the four-hour meeting.
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin questioned the $22,624 annual increase for the chamber to operate the visitor center.
“That’s a really big increase in one year, and now we’re going to cement that in for three years,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“So I want a little bit more background.”
Council member Cherie Kidd said the volunteer-based Port Angeles Visitor Center is serving more tourists than ever before and provides a “tremendous” return on investment.
“What we do not see in the budget are all the volunteers who work there, all the hours people work for free because they want people to like Port Angeles, understand where they are and be hospitable,” Kidd said.
“This is really a remarkable asset for us. These volunteers have been there for years, sometimes decades.”
“The commitment is amazing,” Kidd added. “They simply have to deal with more people.”
Council member Jim Moran said he and his wife volunteer at the Port Angeles Visitor Center at least once a week.
“I can tell you the influx of visitors has increased and the amount of supplies that we go through is amazing,” Moran said.
A three-year contract would enable Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marc Abshire to lock in a three-year lease with the building owner, Moran said.
Seattle businessman Erik Marks purchased the 46,000-square-foot Landing mall and 2,200-square-foot visitor center buildings earlier this year.
“Second of all, the chamber is really synonymous with the visitor center, not only in Port Angeles but everywhere you go,” Moran said.
“The chamber directs the visitor center, the chamber personnel arrange for the volunteers that serve there and then they keep it staffed and they it keep it supplied. It’s a tremendous job.”
The chamber’s current contract for the visitor center expires Dec. 31.
Abshire told the council that a three-year contract extension would buy time for the chamber to work with the National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other potential partners on ideas for a new visitor center.
“It’s just something we’re looking at, but this kind of thing takes a while,” Abshire said.
“We need a few years of runway in order to figure out what this [new visitor center] is going to be.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.