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Victoria needs freestanding visitors center

By BY WILL ARMSTRONG
March 29, 2014 at 4:03 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2014 at 10:29 p.m.

Will Armstrong

The opportunity to develop Victoria into a destination tourist Mecca is widely recognized and can be funded by motel/hotel taxes collected from out-of-town visitors. The building of a freestanding visitors center, the staffing and the operational cost of running the center can all be paid for from the visitors' tax that motels and hotels collect for the city.

Victoria is extremely fortunate to have the beautiful restored homes in old Victoria and our picturesque Main Street, in addition to being located near the Fannin Battlegrounds, LaBahia in Goliad and the Chisholm Trail Museum in Cuero. We also have our own Nave Museum, The Museum of the Coastal Bend at Victoria College, three golf courses, Riverside Park, a skate board park and a $10 million sports complex.

The state comptroller's office reports that we have 1,466 hotel/motel rooms now, and we have about 200 more rooms under construction that will be finished this summer. These investments in rooms for rent are a gift to Victoria because they generate tax money for our city and allow visitors to spend money with local merchants, which generates more tax money for us and jobs for our citizens. But the real gift to our city is the opportunity to expand the tourist industry that will bring new jobs and new dollars into our city.

The law governing the collection of a visitors' tax is very well defined. The law states that up to 15 percent of the money collected can be spent on the arts. All of the remainder of the money collected can only be spent on the encouragement of additional visitors who will stay overnight in a local motel or hotel. Under existing Texas law, no visitor's tax money can be placed in the general fund and spent on anything other than as described in this paragraph.

The city owns half of the 600 block of North Main Street, and it is projected that at the end of September of this year, $670,347 in hotel-motel tax funds would be available to build a visitors center. A preliminary plan allowing for a visitor's center complex of approximately 1,700 square feet was prepared by Rawley McCoy.

I am familiar with what our city staff is doing to promote an increase in visitors, and I applaud their qualifications and efforts. What is lacking now is a conspicuous base of operations: a stand-alone visitors center.

We have the land, the money and the professional staff all in place. We have our historic homes, beautiful Main Street, local museums, and we are the hub for museums in Goliad and Cuero. And also, we have three golf courses, the $10 million ball complex and many hotel rooms and restaurants.

All of the assets in the above paragraph are a plus. On the minus side is the visitors tax collected in 2013 was less than the year before, down $138,492 from 2012. In the first reporting period of this year, the tax collected is down another 15 percent. Right now is the time for leadership on the City Council to make a conspicuous commitment to build Victoria into a destination tourist center and show their commitment to this goal by building a freestanding visitors center on the property that the city already owns on the corner of Main and North streets.

The City Council meets Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Council Chamber by City Hall. Please lend your support to this effort by attending this meeting.

Will Armstrong is a resident and former mayor of Victoria.

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