Council Provides Discover Torrance with Stamp of Approval
With election day dominating much of the news, the City Council quietly moved by unanimous vote to continue its support of Discover Torrance. Discover Torrance is a not for profit corporation designed to market the City of Torrance as an overnight tourist destination and to help fund marketing and sales promotion efforts for Torrance lodging businesses. The entity was created after the City formed a Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) in January of 2010. The TBID is comprised of lodging establishments within the City that have 50 or more rooms and is funded primarily through a 1% tax on all room rental revenue at those hotels.
Discover Torrance is led by a Board consisting of one representative from each assessed hotel as well as one representative from the City of Torrance. Economic Development Manager Fran Fulton currently serves as the City’s representative. The President and CEO of the Torrance Chamber of Commerce, Donna Duperron, also serves on the Board in an advisory capacity.
Shortly after the TBID was created the City of Torrance approved a one time $100,000 payment to help the organization with startup costs as well as a $33,000 annual membership fee for the City to reserve a voting seat on the Board. The Council voted to continue that annual payment last Tuesday evening.
An annual summary provided by Discover Torrance showed that they received $676K in income during 2013. The organization used that money to help the city attract and host events like the AYSO National Tournament and the Herbalife Triathlon. They also promoted the City at a number of trade shows and marketed Torrance through their website and other print media. Expenditures for 2013 included $165K in payroll and administrative expenses, $74K for tradeshows and special projects, and $345K for marketing. The annual summary also noted that occupancy rates at participating hotels have been increasing steadily since 2009.
The role of Discover Torrance presents several interesting points for discussion. It gives local hotels control over how assessments levied against their organizations are used with the idea that they will spend those dollars to benefit their companies and the City. To that end, Discover Torrance has certainly produced some praiseworthy work. The City, for example, might want to review the well done Discover Torrance website for ideas as they look to revamp the current City website. Whether this good work ultimately represents a good value to the taxpayer is less clear. Yes, occupancy rates have risen at local hotels but records show we are just barely getting back to the levels we had in 2008. Thus, it could be argued that the increases over the past few years have more to do with an overall improving economy than solely Discover Torrance’s marketing efforts.
The organization is also essentially a taxpayer funded enterprise yet the allocation of those funds is governed by a private board and not by any elected official thereby limiting taxpayer oversight. It seems to be a really good deal for local hotels as the taxpayer is basically subsidizing their advertising budget, but is that really how we want taxpayer dollars spent.
Given that the City’s representative on that Board only accounts for 1 out of 15 votes, you also have to wonder whether the continued $33,000 annual expense to reserve that voting right is really worth it. Why not make the City representative an advisory/non-voting role as was done with the Chamber of Commerce? Taking it a step further, one could also ask if tourism is really that important to Torrance, why not market itself through its own budget versus ceding some of that responsibility to local hotels?
That thought raises the larger debate of just how important tourism truly is to Torrance and what emphasis should be placed upon it as the City shapes its future identity. I mean let’s face it, historically Torrance hasn’t exactly been a hot spot for tourists. Should that change? Torrance City officials certainly seem to think that it should. Mayor Furey, for example, campaigned on the idea of making Torrance the mecca destination for youth soccer as Williamsport is to Little League. Is that what residents want? Tourism is obviously great for many local businesses and City revenues, but it also tends to bring with it problems such as increased traffic and crime.
The Council only voted on their intent to renew the TBID. Hearings will be held in January to allow for public comment on the matter. The first of which is scheduled for January 13, 2015 in the Council Chambers at 7:00 pm. At that time, Torrance residents will have a chance to join with the Council in voicing their approval for Discover Torrance or they can let it be known if they prefer that Torrance remain undiscovered.