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Council awards grants, Chamber puts visitor center promotional materials on hold

Tourism is what attracts people to come to Newberg and helps boost the local economy. Funding for Newberg's tourism effort comes from the city's transient lodging tax (TLT). Funds are collected from hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals and around 35 percent of those funds are distributed to the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce to run the visitors center. These funds are distinctly aimed at tourism.

"Years ago the city contracted with the Chamber to be the visitors center, answer questions and be a contact point," said Carr Biggerstaff, chairman of the Chamber's board of directors.

Sheryl Kelsh, who is no longer at the Chamber, played a prominent role in formation of the visitor's center, Biggerstaff said, adding "She would program different forms of promotion, whether that was print advertising in magazines or things like that."

Once the Allison Inn and Spa was constructed the amount of TLT proceeds the city began taking in skyrocketed and the council decided to cap the amount dedicated to the visitor's center in 2015 to $137, 000 annually. The windfall also required that city create an ad-hoc committee, answerable to the council, in December 2016.

The 13-member committee, appointed by the council, was also responsible for awarding small and large grants according to the committee's guidelines and make recommendations to the council, who has final say on funding approval.

This year, the committee requested applications for a large grant with a minimum award amount of $10,001 and a maximum based on the funds available. Seven applications were received for review and three recommendations were presented to the council for approval at its Jan. 16 meeting. All met the criteria that they be within the 97132 zip code and match the grant dollar for dollar.

The applications recommended by the committee to the council were for a cultural center culinary enrichment center at the Chehalem Cultural Center for $250,000, a Newberg Downtown Wineries multi-media presence for $20,500 and construction of the Vines-to-Steins trail for $65,000. The council approved the award to the cultural center and the wineries, but sent back the Vines-to-Steins trail award to the ad hoc committee for re-review.

The cultural center plans to "Renovate the existing first floor space into a multi-use culinary classroom and staging area for caterers and other users to prepare and stage food and beverages to be served in the central grand ballroom and other venues in and around the cultural center, including the forecourt plaza," according to the cultural center's grant proposal.

The winery grant will collaborate with Prepared Marketing, a local Newberg marketing firm that specializes in digital management.

"He will help us develop a plan to utilize some advertising and some common search terms to try to target people that are planning on visiting the area that live outside our zip code," said Tracy Timmins, direct sales manager of Newberg Downtown Wineries. "We already have a cooperative website and it's a fun website that we've put together that shows that we have a variety of tasting rooms right here in downtown Newberg. It will be that website specifically,"

The Vines-to-Steins Interpretive Walking Trail and Visitor Pavilion was presented by Wolves and People Farmhouse Brewery. The project purposed was in two phases: "Phase one, a joint effort with A to Z Wineworks and Wolves & People to establish and mark a tourist-friendly, interpretive walking trail between our tasting rooms. Phase two will be the construction of a visitor pavilion to be designed and built by Wolves & People as a separate project," according to the proposal.

At the council's Jan. 16 meeting concerns were voiced from some local residents that the trail could be dangerous and may not adhere to Yamhill County agritourism regulations. Because of these concerns, the council chose to return the proposal back to the ad hoc committee to determine if the proposal meets the criteria. The council will decide on the fate of Wolves & People after the review.

"We are really proud of the work that we have done so far to bring tourism into the area through the brewery …," said Christian DeBenedetti, owner of Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. "We're looking forward to continuing our relationship and hearing back from the TLT committee."

Another responsibility of the ad hoc committee was to generate a tourism plan, which was approved by the council in June 2016, and adopted a tourism strategy that detailed a tourism promotion plan that prioritizes outdoor recreation, downtown development and wine country luxury as the three points to promote and enhance. The plan was created by outside consultants.

The consultants recommended that the plan budget should include hiring a tourism director, a role partially filled by Kelsh both at the Chamber and as a representative in the ad hoc committee. Before Kelsh left, she was working on that plan. As a result, that role is on hold while the Chamber decides what they are going to do.

"I just told the folks that we are not going to do anymore advertising or promotion; we will hold on to the funds and wait until a decision is made," Biggerstaff said.

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