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Amidst Cuts, Chamber of Commerce Asks City to Invest in Marketing Plan

Chamber CEO Courtney Conlon asked the city to pitch in nearly $55,000 for a searchable database of empty commercial real estate and enhancements to the visitor center, among other things.

The Chamber of Commerce demonstrated a willingness to work with the city in marketing Pacifica to tourists Wednesday night that some say hadn’t been seen in decades.

At a special budget study session, Chamber CEO Courtney Conlon laid a plan out simply: If the city contributes $54,500 to the chamber, her organization can immediately supplement an ongoing public relations and marketing campaign to promote tourism to Pacifica, enhance the visitor center on Rockaway Beach Avenue, design a centralized community calendar and develop a searchable website listing all unoccupied commercial real estate in city limits.

The timing of the pitch might seem odd because the city is currently looking for ways it can , but Conlon said that this plan would pay off in the end by increasing city revenue from a transient occupancy (hotel tax) and additional sales tax paid at local businesses.

“The city is experiencing financial hardship,” Conlon said to the city council. “We stand before you tonight to offer assistance with both short-term and long-term solutions that will enable the city to generate the much needed revenue to retain its vital city services." 

The reactions of the three councilmembers at the study session—Len Stone, Mary Ann Nihart and Sue Digre—ranged from cautious optimism to hedged skepticism. 

Councilman Stone was enthusiastic about the possibility of working with the chamber to create new marketing tools for the city, especially if the chamber’s plan could be funded à la carte, meaning the city could pay for the online empty real estate database but perhaps hold off on a community calendar, for example.

“We’ve never invested in raising our revenue,” he said. “I’m happy the chamber put forth a solution and means of doing that. This has never happened before.”

Still, he said, this may be something the council will need to consider funding five or six months down the road.

Councilwoman Sue Digre said she’s hesitant to fund an expansion of services at the chamber when she still meets business owners in town that were or are dissatisfied with what they’ve been getting out of the organization as is.

Conlon acknowledged that in the past the chamber may not have been the most active in serving its members, but that’s changed and last year its membership grew by 20 percent.

Councilwoman Nihart had several issues not with the marketing plan presented Wednesday night, but with the idea of funding the chamber at all.

She asked to see the most recent details about finances in the nonprofit and a breakdown of exactly what the city would be spending its money on.

“We can’t give money to something we don’t know will be there in a while,” she said Thursday morning. “I’m not implying anything, but you want to make sure the company is okay when buying a window. Also, there were not financials or anything outlined as to what we’re spending money on.”

Nihart’s concern about the chamber’s finances is perhaps justified based on its recent financial documents filed with the IRS. 

From 2007 to 2009, the chamber’s revenues have fallen while its expenses have gone up (revenues fell from $268,896 in 2007 to $255,800 in 2009 and expenses rose from $264,428 in 2007 to $275,288 in 2009) leaving it with deficit of nearly $20,000 in 2009. 

According to chamber Treasurer Cheryl Yoes, revenues in 2010 were flat and expenses were “way up”, meaning the deficit would have increased.

However, keeping revenues flat in economic times like these “isn’t bad,” said chamber member Jim Wagner, and the chamber listed about $140,000 in assets and savings on a document filed with the IRS in 2009, which can soften the impacts of a defecit.

When asked whether money given to the chamber by the city would specifically and only be used for the services outlined in the marketing plan, Conlon said it would.

In the end, Nihart said she just didn’t know where the city would find the money to purchase these services from the chamber and nothing was decided at the study session. The chamber’s proposal has not been placed on any future city council agenda for further consideration.

Chamber members have not given up, however. Conlon said they will continue to lobby the council to take a vote and approve this marketing plan, which, in the long run, she believes will pay off in spades. 

Bhatman May 13, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Do you think that the CofC "marketing plan" is comprehensive enough to qualify for a bank loan? No? Then why should the City give then a grant? If they think their plan is such a money-maker let then ask for a loan from the City with a repayment schedule and their personal property as collateral. Hey CofC keep your hands off out tax dollars!
Scotty May 14, 2011 at 12:50 AM
People will take you seriously as soon as you provide repayment schedules and personal property as collateral for your next snake bridge or plover corral, Hallman.
Eddie Shore May 15, 2011 at 01:59 AM
The really crazy thing is no one complaining about the CofC plan right now stood up before City Council the numerous times they allocated $100,000 here, $300,000 there for hairbrained schemes like the City hall by the Sea and the Pedro Point Headland trails . . . which were PROVEN to be money losers!! Same with the grease refinery. I had no faith in the Yes Man clown who ran the chamber like the Fox News satellite of City Council for years. Under his "Eagle" Eye I would have told the Chamber to pack sand with any money requests. Under the new management, I say give the Chamber a chance. If anyone can draw more revenue to the city, I trust them more than City Council, especially Jim "Money Pit" Vreeland. I'm sure the CofC can draw up a few more details on their plan.
Bhatman May 16, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Snotty you can seem to stick to the subject. Was this always a problem for you?
Carol Camacho July 13, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Wow, just got done reading this thread. Since this post I see the CofC launched the, Visit Pacifica site & The Mercury News posted an article of the website launch(dated 7/5/11) http://www.mercurynews.com/pacifica/ci_18413325. (Sorry if links aren't live). So, the CofC moved forward with some of it's plan. But to maximize the campaign efforts you must interconnect your websites & social media forms together. It's a win, win situation; all done by the Internet & social media for free. I cannot tell you how strategic moves with social media can benefit this city. The CofC's website needs to insert a tab to the new Visit Pacifica website & visa versa. You want to make it easy for the "potential consumer" to get to the information as fast as possible. And, the City of Pacifica needs to get on the social media band wagon, it's not going away and is only becoming stronger. Not connecting, tells this day & age consumer that you only want to feed them info one way, therefore dictating. People need to know your listening. The plus to this is free feedback & ideas that can lead to potential city income or improvements. San Bruno & Millbrae have great Facebook pages. They get it. The possibilities are endless, think outside the box instead inside the tax payers wallet.

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