City staff, consultants said festival succeeds in attracting tourists to benefit businesses

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Big-ticket items on the city's Spirit of Halloweentown budget include the purchase of new props, like this massive metalic pumpkin in the Columbia Courthouse Plaza. A preliminary review of city spending on Spirit of Halloweentown activities reveals record-high spending for the annual, month-long event that draws in tourists every October.

This year's spending topped $123,000.

In 2015, the city spent $35,000 to host the month-long festival. It then nearly tripled the budget in 2016, spending $102,000. This year, the city budgeted $110,000 in expenses, based on estimates of previous years.

St. Helens Finance Director Matt Brown said the city fully expected to spend more than it had in previous years. Brown said the city budgeted to receive $40,000 in revenue to cover expenses. Thus far, reported city revenue from Spirit of Halloweentown is $77,000 — a $33,000 improvement over budget expectation.

Funding for the festival comes from the city's tourism budget, which is funded by hotel and motel transient taxes paid to the city annually. Budgeting rules dictate money within that fund can only be spent on the pursuit of tourism.

While the city did not cover its expenses, Brown said it's not a major concern in the grand scheme.

Still, revenue records indicate a 14 percent slip over the prior year's $90,000 intake.

City Administrator John Walsh said he does not view Spirit of Halloweentown as a revenue-generating event for the city, but rather as a visitor attraction benefitting local businesses throughout the month.

"I think many communities are struggling to find their brand, but I think Halloween has really found us," Walsh said.

Walsh estimated conservatively that nearly 40,000 people traveled through St. Helens throughout the month of October.

"It drives tourists here and supports the local economy, and were hitting the nail on the head here," Walsh said.

Tina Curry, who works for the city's contracted event planner, E2C Productions, a Vancouver, Wash.-based event planning and consulting company, reported this year's Spirit of Halloweentown as highly successful earlier this week during a debriefing meeting with the St. Helens City Council. She said many shop owners in the Houlton Business District were pleased with the addition of a shuttle service that transported visitors to the uptown area of St. Helens.

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Spirit of Halloweentown festivities attracted thousands of people to St. Helens this year. Celebrity guest appearances countinue to make up the majority of the event's budget and draw in large crowds.One of the major complaints from businesses in the Houlton Business District in 2016 was the lack of traffic along Columbia Boulevard after traffic control and law enforcement teams directed vehicles down Gable Road.

While city staff viewed the event as a success, two board members from St. Helens Economic Development Corp. reported breakdowns in communication between Curry and SHEDCO when it came to planning. Two planned events by SHEDCO were omitted from the Spirit of Halloweentown calendar this year, which is overseen by Curry.

Board Chair Al Petersen and Vice Chair Amanda Normine asked the City Council to develop a standardized format for businesses and groups to announce planned events to the city and Curry for inclusion on the city schedule.

Normine said some of the business owners she spoke with were pleased with the amount of visitors that came into their restaurants and shops, but many businesses would like to see more done year-round to promote the business community in addition to Spirit of Halloweentown.

Budgeting for the event does not include monthly contract payments made by the city to E2C to cover consulting work done by Curry. In September, the city approved a new contract with E2C that pays the company $10,000 a month for two employees. Those funds also come out of the city's visitor and tourism fund.

The budget also does not account for staff time or overtime spent working on planning, set up, or other related events. Brown said the city currently does not track that information.

Documents outlining expenses and revenues here are not itemized and appear as they were released from city records.

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