Letter - Tourism threatens Walla Walla’s identity, culture

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Years ago the city of Walla Walla started promoting tourism in the Valley using funds gathered from a hotel-motel tax fund. At the time, I thought it would be nice to hire a consultant to advocate for our communities and protect us from some of the negative aspects tourism inevitably brings — or at least help us decide what a healthy target level of promotion would be for our small towns.

Since then, the city of Walla Walla has spent millions of dollars to promote tourism, averaging well over $500,000 per year since at least 2007.

I believe the tourism industry has reached an unhealthy size in our area, threatening our identity as a region and our residents’ quality of life.

In that light, I would like to propose putting the tourism industry in the Valley on a maintenance diet (and the film industry on a starvation diet). There are some significant downsides to tourism, and I believe we now have as high a level as we can handle while still preserving the identity and culture of our small communities (not to mention the condition of our local roadways).

With three local colleges/universities, several government offices, a thriving agricultural presence and several manufacturing businesses, our local economy is very diverse. It would be nice if tourism were a leg of our economic “table” and not allowed to grow into that table’s lone pedestal.

Last year the city of Walla Walla dedicated over $600,000 to promoting tourism. With Walla Walla’s municipal budget as tight as it is these days, why not redistribute some of that?

A portion could go to tourism, while the remainder could help fund the Pioneer Park Aviary, patch up potholes and support local industry. It’s a controversial idea, and I’m sure some people would be opposed to the concept, but I think it would mean a lot to many of us who call this place home.

Cindy Philbrook

Waitsburg

Comments

Jerrycummins 2 months, 2 weeks ago

As an attempt to explain Hotel-Motel Tax, the following information is provided.

Hotel-Motel tax can only be used to fund tourism activities and promote tourism. There is designated by law a local municipal Lodging Tax Advisory Board to oversee the use of these funds. Currently a small portion of this 2% room tax, which is paid by people staying in local motels, is used for funding both Borleske Stadium and Fort Walla Walla Museum, as well as the majority of the funds which are used to fund tourism activities. Local motels, hotels, the chamber of commerce and other tourism entities are part of the local lodging tax advisory committee. State law is specific on how hotel-motel tax revenue can be spent. Hotel-Motel tax funds cannot be used for general fund expenses such as park maintenance, street repairs, public safety, etc.

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dogman12 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I think Cindy's concerns have some validity, but perhaps she could chime in again here and be more specific as to what she sees as the negative aspects and harm to quality of life.

The cash flow is nice to have, and if you recall the state of downtown in the late 80s, the vitality now is a stark contrast. The dark side of that is the impact on storefront costs in the core area. There is less diversity of businesses these days, and locally owned retailers are sparse. Of course this is not only due to the prevalence of tourism.

The local "culture" is actually fairly robust outside the downtown. Once the events season starts in April, there is something going on every weekend.

I am concerned that the core of the tourism agenda is drinking alcohol. Families don't come here for a variety of activities, because there is only so much of interest after you wine-taste, have an expensive dinner, and catch a little music. Mostly we get mature couples without kids. If you are a local not into those three activities, downtown has little to offer.

Perhaps we could "redefine" tourism support within the limits of the law and provide financial support for development of other family friendly attractions. And/or, we could reduce the lodging tax to put promotion on a maintenance diet.

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oldguyonabike 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Acceptable spending of Hotel-Motel tax funds can be used for operations and capital expenditures of tourism-related facilities owned or operated by a municipality, such as the aviary.

http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/finance/lodgingtax.aspx

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Kevconpat 2 months, 1 week ago

really, is this true. Why are we so ready to let the aviary just 'fly away?" I think this will be a shame. Years ago Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo was suffering as the city withdrew tax dollars. But concerned people, citizens rallied: levies and admission charges came to be and it is now a lovely local and tourist attraction. World renowned in many aspects. Our Aviary could be so much, if only the city and perhaps some HUGE winery would step up. Put a name on the aviary, you know; 'Naming Rights. Why not?

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Chas 2 months, 1 week ago

The Public seem to have decided upon the Aviary. It's time to let that go. It was about the money and budget and the people aren't willing to pay. Yes, Seattle did work it out. Walla Wallan's were given the opportunity and did not.

The streets and roads in some areas of Walla Walla are terrible because we built a town on enormous gravel beds. These gravel beds provide the many springs in the area around Pioneer Park. I've noticed the water level of the streams leaving the park has dropped several inches since Spring. I'm not writing of gravel used in underlayment for asphalt and concrete construction, but rocks the size of bread loaves. Walking on these gravel bars is difficult because they constantly move underfoot, they move as water levels rise and fall, they move as seasonal temperatures change. The same movement is happening beneath the streets.

People see bad roads and traffic and too many assume the traffic is the source of the problem because that's what they see. Many problems arise from what isn't seen.

The current street work with sewage and water line replacement offers a great opportunity to understand the challenges the engineer's face.

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dogman12 2 months, 1 week ago

You are correct about the groundwater affecting the roads. It is ironic that one of the natural features that makes this valley so habitable (the shallow gravel aquifer and reliable groundwater) also makes road maintenance challenging.

Pretty much from WWII until a few years ago when it could no longer be ignored, no local politicians had the skill and courage to explain the real costs of maintenance. They kicked the can down the road for 50 years.

Evidence for this includes the fact that it will take 90 years to catch up, according to the official plan.

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GeneandCassie 2 months, 1 week ago

Interesting dilemma.....

A 'tourism economy' co-existing with 'climate change....'

One needing the usage of 'fossil fuels' and the other adversely affected by fossil fuel use....

Can it be done?????

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thrifty 2 months, 1 week ago

Don't get sidetracked. Our orientation around the wine industry is really where the tourism comes from is the concern. Look at the jobs created by this concept. Most all are minimum wage jobs in the wine industry and the food service business. Our downtown is oriented toward tourism and if you want something other than wine you need to travel to the Tri-Cities to get it. Things didn't use to be that way. Talk to some of the local business people that aren't selling wine and I think you will find that our local economy isn't all that great.

Wouldn't it be nice if our city fathers would recruit a few firms that provide high paying jobs in other industries for the local residents? Maybe a little effort in this direction would be worthwhile.

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mossyrocks 2 months, 1 week ago

You obviously have no idea what you are taking about. Wine industry professionals do not make minimum wage. You are just making stuff up. I know several people who work in the wine industry - from winemakers to tasting room associates and everything in between. They make pretty good money. Certainly much more than minimum wage. Most winemakers have advanced college degrees. Wineries hire marketing professionals, sales associates, tasting room staff, cellar workers and harvest interns and even the interns make more than minimum wage! The people I know who work at wineries all have college degrees and make a good living with full benefits (that includes the person who is pouring the wine and interns). You shouldn't talk about things you don't know and you certainly should not insult an entire industry of hard working individuals. You are an embarrassment to this lovely city and valley. 5th generation speaking. Minimum wage? I don't think so. You need to get educated.

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Kevconpat 2 months, 1 week ago

True. Two good friends of ours are in the wine industry here: the husband makes $16+/hr; with his wife making even more. They both completed programs at the Enology Center and worked over in the Seattle area first than came over to be close to a Parent, here. They even put money back into the local WW community by purchasing a new home near Worksource off Tietan. There are good paying jobs within the 'wine industry.' Taking a Segway moment, perhaps the people of WW have spoken and have decided against their Aviary. I think in the future if it is indeed thrown into the heap of what was and what could have been, the Aviary will be truly lamented.

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thrifty 2 months, 1 week ago

By your means of expressing yourself it is apparent that you may have an advanced degree from the local high school.

My thought is that our local community has gone from one that provided the basics for the local residents to one that is infatuated with providing wine and food for tourists. Much of the current down town is now oriented around the wine industry. According to you I don't know what I am talking about but I happen to know some that work in the local wine industry, some that operate local wineries, and some that are involved in the food industry that is affiliated with the local wine industry. They don't all make a lot of money but I guess that is dependent upon what your impression of good money is. Not all but many of the jobs in both of these areas are minimum wage jobs. They pay considerably less than Microsoft, Intel, Caterpillar, Costco, Boeing, and similar companies that aren't in the business of selling wine and food to tourists.

Most of the local residents of this community are now required to acquire many of the goods they need outside of this city since the businesses that provide them are no longer here. If a segment of our population were employed with this other type of company then I suspect that companies that provide goods and services for that type of customer might also be drawn to Walla Walla. Judging by the condition of our local mall I would hazard to guess that currently those businesses aren't too interested in Walla Walla.

My suggestion is to investigate drawing some other types of business into our community. In many cases the people working for those companies make good money and not just the few that are responsible for operating it.

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downhillracer 2 months, 1 week ago

Aside from denigrating the previous comments with your tripe regarding their perceived level of education, please share with us your well researched facts regarding your positions that "most of the local residents of this community are now required to acquire many of the goods.. outside this city." Otherwise, please stop with your hysteria and made-up nonsense. Just stop.

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Jo99362 2 months, 1 week ago

Walla Walla is immensely better than Pendleton in terms of tourism. Walla Walla is doing stuff almost year round . . . Pendleton has the Round-Up and its pretty much dull the rest of the time. There are plenty of family-friendly events: County Fair, Balloon Stampede, Wheelin' WW, Light Parade, Parks & Recreation Programs, Farmer's Market, YMCA, CampFire, FunRuns, Musicals at the Amphitheater, Ducky Derby, Public Library has weekly events, Children's Day, National Night Out, PeachBasket, Ft. WW, Whitman Mission, WW Sweets games, etc. Not everything is free but there is no shortage of things to do for families. It would be nice if the funds could be used to expand the downtown area and help revitalize the side streets. I haven't gone wine tasting ever since I moved here over 10 years ago, but I don't see it damaging the community at all. Round-Up on the other hand, is about drinking in excess all day and all night (when I was a kid when there were more bars downtown).

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