City taps hotel tax to promote convention center

HARLINGEN — The city is setting aside money to help promote the $16.7 million convention center.

During the upcoming fiscal year, the Harlingen Convention & Visitors Bureau will earmark $50,000 to help promote the convention center, projected to be completed in September 2018, Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said yesterday.

During the next year, he said, the city will likely boost the amount of money used to fund an advertising program.

“That amount is probably going to go up,” Gonzalez said. “The ideal way to promote the convention center is advertising.”

“The more people you can bring in, the better,” he said. “They spend their money in hotels, fuel, restaurants and shops. It’s a great investment. When you bring tourist dollars in, it multiplies several times.”

Meanwhile, the city is also dipping into its hotel occupancy tax revenue to start preparing to pay off the convention center’s debt, Finance Director Elvia Trevño said.

Treviño said the city will transfer $133,492 from its hotel occupancy tax fund into a debt service account.

Last year, the city set aside $100,000 to help pay the debt.

Funding the convention center

As part of its finance plan, the city will use $3.8 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue to help pay off taxable certificates of obligation used to build the convention center.

Over a 20-year period, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board also will pay $9.7 million to help pay off the debt.

Last year, the city collected $998,175 in hotel occupancy tax revenue, down from $1 million the year before.

Officials attribute the decrease to the close of the city’s La Quinta Inn & Suites, which operated a hotel now being run as a Quality Inn.

“La Quinta has a much larger national promotion campaign so it attracts a much larger audience,” Gonzalez said.

Several incoming hotels, including a Hilton Garden Inn to be attached to the convention center, a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott and a Homewood Suites by Hilton, are projected to boost the city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue, officials said.

Preparing for the convention center

Earlier this week, city commissioners approved a transfer of as much as $339,006 from the CVB’s $586,982 fund balance to pay some of the convention center’s costs as the city prepares to launch construction.

The transfer leaves the CVB, which operates on a $433,332 annual budget, with a fund balance of at least $247,976.

This week, commissioners also earmarked hotel occupancy tax revenue to help fund the city’s tourist attractions.

Gonzalez said the city allocated $41,000 to help fund the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, the city’s biggest tourist draw.

Meanwhile, $10,000 is going to Marine Military Academy to maintain the Iwo Jima Monument, he said.

Also, the city is earmarking $24,000 to help fund the Harlingen Performing Arts Theater.

This year, the city is using $433,332 in hotel occupancy tax revenue to operate the CVB, the three-member department which works to coordinate events focused on building tourism and filling hotel rooms.