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City of Sunnyside ups tourism spending

Fresh off one of its most successful Lighted Farm Implement Parades, the city of Sunnyside is raising the ante in an effort to draw more visitors and spending here.

Last night, Monday, the Sunnyside City Council approved spending $107,600 from a hotel/motel tax fund to attract visitors here in 2013.

Funds for the account come from taxes levied on overnight hotel/motel stays in Sunnyside and, in compliance with state law, can only be used to encourage tourism to the city.

Councilman Jason Raines is chair of the city's Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, which last night recommended spending $79,000 next year on tourism. That proposal is $8,500 less than what was spent this year and almost $40,000 less than the total amount sought by seven proposals for tourism funds.

Interim City Manager Frank Sweet wondered aloud why the committee wanted to spend less than this year, especially when the tourism fund has a surplus and brings in $90,000 a year or so that has to be dedicated to tourism. He reminded council that it is in competition for tourists and the dollars they bring.

It's estimated that this month's Lighted Farm Implement Parade, for example, attracted more than 30,000 people to Sunnyside.

Raines replied that committee members had some questions on the tourism proposals and wanted more information.

Six of the seven funding requests were granted last night at amounts higher than recommended by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.

That included promotional efforts for Sunshine Days, which is funded for next year at $10,000 instead of the $5,000 recommended by the committee. The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce had sought $7,000.

Chamber Director Pam Turner said the goal for next year is to expand Sunshine Days to a two or two-and-a-half day event and locate vendors and the car show on downtown Sunnyside streets.

Councilman Nick Paulakis agreed with expanding Sunshine Days.

"This used to be our big event and I think it needs to go back to that," said Paulakis.

Additional funds will help with better marketing for Sunshine Days, and Turner echoed Mayor Mike Farmer's hopes of adding a band and street dance for next September's event.

Turner also plans to expand next year's Lighted Farm Implement Parade, the 25th annual edition of the city's signature event. She told council the chamber would like to bring back an ice sculpture for the 2013 event and fireworks to celebrate the 25th annual parade.

The committee had recommended spending $7,000 on next year's event, but council upped it to $10,000 because of the 25th anniversary plans.

The possibility of bringing in another big name band for Sunnyside's Cinco de Mayo festival prompted council last night to allocate $20,000 for the event instead of $17,000 recommended by the committee.

Council was also unanimous in funding the Miss Sunnyside float organization's full request for $7,600 instead of the $6,000 recommended by the committee.

Paulakis, whose daughter formerly served as Miss Sunnyside, said that amount doesn't even cover the full cost of building the float, and noted that figure doesn't include travel costs associated with the 20 parades or so that the float and Miss Sunnyside Court enter each year. He called the float a "moving billboard" for Sunnyside.

Also getting the thumbs up last night was $10,000 - with up to another $5,000 in matching funds - for pole decorations in downtown Sunnyside, such as the ag-themed lights recently displayed.

Council's biggest difference with the committee was related to an entry labelled "tourism promotion or tourism-related facility."

The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce had sought $45,000 in 2013 for tourism promotion/facility - the same amount it received this year - but the committee only recommended an allocation of $30,000.

Turner said the funds are used for advertising events in the city of Sunnyside, the chamber's website, postage and publishing visitor guides.

Raines said his committee recommended less funding for the chamber because it wanted to see it do more in generating membership and seeking other sources of fundraising.

Sweet countered that if fully funded, the chamber could offer more workshops and community outreach to share the benefits of membership in the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.

"If we cut this it doesn't make sense," Sweet added.

Following a suggestion by Paulakis, Sweet said he would work with Turner in finding a work space at city hall so the chamber doesn't have to rent office space.

The only tourism funding request not addressed last night was a request for $6,000 by the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. John Cooper was the bureau's representative at the meeting last night, and he said the funds would be used to help market Sunnyside and its activities.

Council was hesitant, though, with Councilwoman Theresa Hancock noting that Sunnyside's Lighted Farm Implement Parade was not well covered by Yakima-area media and that information on the parade was difficult to find on the bureau's website.

Council tabled action on the bureau's funding request, pending further discussions between Sweet, Raines and Cooper.

Looking ahead, Raines said the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee is already revising the application process for 2014.

The committee, he said, will "...ask for more details from the beginning to make sure we have questions answered up front."

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