St. Helens tourism contractor keeps job, for now
St. Helens city councilors agreed to a temporary compromise Wednesday, Jan. 8, on their tourism strategy, but not before a shouting match erupted between Mayor Rick Scholl and Councilor Steve Topaz.
Scholl supports renewed funding for Washington-based E2C Corp. tourism consultancy, owned by Tina Curry. Other councilors and three audience members praised Curry's performance, especially the annual Spirit of Halloweentown monthly celebration in the city's downtown area.
"Martha Stewart says that St. Helens is now the No. 3 top Halloween town in the entire country," added Scappoose businessman and St. Helens resident, Brady Preheim, "and that St. Helens is No. 3 in something — other than unemployment — is amazing."
In the end, a compromise was reached to consider Curry's contract for 2020 and to discuss soliciting new bids for the job down the road.
E2C's work on Spirit of Halloweentown brings in tourists from as far away as Kentucky and England, said Jennifer Pugsley, a Realtor and owner of 50 Plaza Square housed in a historic building in the city's downtown Riverfront District.
But Topaz disagreed, saying the city was investing too much time on tourism.
"It's okay that we have Halloweentown and a few visitors support pickle shops and get scared, but we need heavyweight jobs here," he said.
He urged the city to get creative in strategic ways to use some of the lodging tax dollars for economic development which, he acknowledged, involves fighting state restrictions.
Council President Doug Morten challenged Topaz's tourism dismissal. He explained that when he got on the City Council, Boise Inc. and other lumber companies were leaving, the subsequent years were hard, and the city had no choice but to try tourism.
"But we need something else," Topaz replied.
"Go for it, Steve," Morten snapped back. A moment later, Morten apologized to Topaz for the tone of his comment.
The row between Scholl and Topaz began after the mayor turned to Curry and said, "This is not kissing up, but I like what you've done."
Topaz then declared the council should not fund Curry's company again and instead put the contract "out for a new bid and put an end to the bad taste in people's mouths around town about this deal" with E2C.
"This is not a back-room deal," Scholl declared.
"It is a back-room deal," Topaz shouted back.
Scholl retorted, "I don't like your comment. I don't know why you even ran for City Council because you don't like anything we do in this city?"
Topaz responded, "I ran because I didn't like how the city was being run."
A few minutes later, when Scholl asked for a consensus to put onto the next regular council session agenda a proposed action to contract with Curry, Topaz balked.
Scholl then proposed a compromise acceptable to Topaz: to forward an agenda item to contract with Curry for 2020 and discuss re-bidding the work for the following year.
Councilors also added to their next regular session Curry's request for the city to lend E2C $3,000 a month to lease office space in the old Masonic Lodge until October, when scheduled city lodging tax dollars would become available to E2C to reimburse the city.
Curry is proposing to use the Masonic Lodge as E2C's office and storage space for Spirit of Halloweentown equipment, and a "business incubator" center providing rent space to small businesses.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.