City of Missoula file

Renewal and expansion of Missoula’s Tourism Business Improvement District got the initial nod from City Council members Wednesday during their administration and finance committee meeting.

The TBID, initially formed in 2010, is intended to get more heads in hotel and motel beds by collecting a $2 per night fee on occupied rooms from those facilities. The money is then used by Destination Missoula and the district to promote Missoula in a variety of ways, including marketing the Garden City at convention and trade shows, to the travel industry generally, and to sporting event organizers.

Under the current configuration, not all of Missoula’s hotels participate in the TBID. That would change under the proposal, by involving all of Missoula’s hotels and motels that have more than seven units that charge by the night. Weekly and long-term units wouldn’t be included.

By law, the TBID must be renewed every 10 years.

Mimi Gustafson with Destination Missoula said the TBID initially had 10 hotels and motels participating, and that has increased to 20 now. Under the proposal, 12 or 13 will be added to the district. Last year the TBID’s annual budget was about $893,000, and she estimates the expansion will add $390,000 to that.

“The one thing I’m most proud of is the economic impact it gives back to Missoula … a $27 million impact in sales and services,” Gustafson said, adding that their marketing brought new events to Missoula, including the 2016 USA Gymnastics Women’s Junior Olympic western championships and the 2017 and 2018 USAC Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships.

The funding also provides support to existing events, including the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, Special Olympics Montana and Missoula Youth Hockey. In addition, they’ve established a funding mechanism that brought more flights and airline carriers to Missoula, including Frontier and American Airlines.

In a brochure given to City Council members, the TBID notes that despite these successes, Missoula is at a competitive disadvantage with the 17 other communities in Montana whose districts are citywide.

“With larger budgets and more support from member hotels, cities such as Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Butte and Kalispell will soon eclipse Missoula,” the brochure states. “As our community continues to grow and expand, it is vital that we have the ability to make Missoula stand above the crowd. With the support of all Missoula hotels, the possibilities are limitless.”

A petition was signed by property owners representing 65% of the area of the properties proposed to be assessed in the district. That's 5% over the necessary threshold to renew and expand the district to cover all of Missoula’s hotels and motels with the city’s boundaries.

City Clerk Marty Rehbein plans to send notices to all of the affected hotel and motel owners, and a public hearing will be held before the council at 7 p.m. May 13.

The property owners can file a written protest until 5 p.m. May 13. If the protests reach a certain level based on a number of formulas, no further action can be taken for a year.

The majority of the council said they support the renewal and expansion, noting that the funds collected from visitors staying in the hotel rooms get put back into the community. Gwen Jones added that the TBID gave $1,000 to the Missoula lacrosse club to put on a tournament, which brought 300 to 400 players and their families here, who spent money dining, shopping and staying in Missoula.

“Having that kind of side money really helps make it work,” Jones said.

However, Jesse Ramos said while he applauds the efforts by Destination Missoula, having only 65% signing the petition wasn’t enough for him. He also voiced concern over the impacts on small businesses.

“I feel like a lot of those donations could be made on a voluntary basis,” Ramos said. “I love small businesses and local hotels, and don’t want to see more of a corporate takeover.”

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