Meeting Insights: Waco City Council Meeting – 08/18/20
By Jeffrey Vitarius
(Civic meetings happen in Waco every week – city council, school board, planning commission, and countless others. Decisions from these meetings affect our lives every day. Many of us are curious about these meetings, but to be honest, it’s just too hard to decipher the jargon and figure out what’s going on and why it’s important. Act Locally Waco is trying something new in August! Jeffrey Vitarius follows civic meetings for his work and out of personal interest. Each week in August he will pick a meeting in our community and highlight one or two items from the agenda to translate from “government-ese” into language we can all understand. We’re calling the series “Meeting Insights.” Let us know what you think! If you enjoy it, we will try to keep it going! — ALW )
The Waco City Council meets every other Tuesday. The work session starts at 3:00, that is where most of the explanation and discussion happens. The business session is at 6:00, that is when the council takes action (votes). The public is invited to attend either or both of these sessions, although, for the time being due to COVID-19, that attendance is virtual through the Waco City Cable Channel (WCCC.TV/live) with public comments sent in ahead of time. Today we will highlighting Ordinance Agenda item 2…the Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID).
- Work Session – 3:00 pm / Business Session – 6:00pm
- To watch the live stream click here (City of Waco Cable Channel, wccc.tv)
- For the full agenda click here
- For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here. Quick note on page numbers: the numbers I will be referring to below are the “packet page numbers” found on the bottom right corner of each page of the meeting packet. These do not always match the number of the page in the pdf. One neat aspect of the packets the city builds for city council meetings is that you can click on the agenda item on the agenda page of the packet and it will take you directly to the relevant materials.
- Details on how to provide public comment are listed in the agenda
A Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) – A Whole New Kind of District
Ordinance Agenda Item 2 – ORD-2020-576 – Consider an ordinance approving and adopting the final service plan for the Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (“TPID”) for Fiscal Year 2020-21, levying special assessments on properties in the TPID to pay for the costs of services provided in accordance with the final service plan, setting charges and liens against property in the district and against the owners thereof, and providing for the collection of the special assessments. SECOND READING
You may notice that certain items on City Council agendas are labeled “first reading” or “second reading.” This indicates that the item under consideration needs to come to council twice before it can receive a final vote. That is how the Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) has found itself on two consecutive City Council agendas.
For some of you the “PID” acronym may ring a bell. PID stands for “Public Improvement District.” Waco already has two other Public Improvement Districts. The one you have most likely heard of is the Downtown Waco PID. In really broad terms, a PID is a special district created by a city or county. It allows for the collection of an assessment from properties within a certain geographic area. An “assessment” is kind of like a tax – it’s not exactly the same thing, but that’s an easy way to think of it. The money from the assessment is used to provide services to the property owners in the district. These services supplement what the city or county is already providing. For example, the Downtown Waco PID uses some of its assessment to pay for additional cleaning (grackle poop!) and security downtown.
Similar to the way the Downtown Waco PID supports Downtown, the proposed Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) would support tourism and visitors across Waco.
The city council endorsed the idea of creating a TPID back in November of 2018 (Trib articles here and here). In June of 2019, a bill allowing for the creation of such a district was filed by the Texas legislature (HB1474).
The next step for the organizers of the TPID was to acquire signatures from property owners representing both 60% of the value of the hotels that would be within the district and 60% of the area of the hotels that would be within the district. That hurdle was cleared in June 2020 (receiving endorsements from 85% of the value, and 79% of the area). Now the city council is considering the TPID’s service and assessment plan – basically the plan that explains what they intend to do with the money collected by the TPID.
I spoke with Carla Pendergraft, the Director of Marketing, at the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, about the fine points of what the TPID could do for Waco and am indebted to her expertise for the explanation that follows.
What is a Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID)? And why would we want one? In the broadest sense, it is a way for local hotels to pool resources and encourage folks to visit Waco. The proposed TPID will be made up of all Waco hotels with more than seventy-five rooms. This includes some of the anticipated hotels along that quiet zone corridor we talked about last week. At the moment, there are twenty-seven hotels that have or will have at least seventy-five rooms (there is a full list on page 314 of the meeting packet). The TPID will collect a 2% assessment on each night stay at one of these hotels and then use those assessments to fulfill its service plan. (Note: Technically the City collects the assessment and then provides it to the TPID).
So, let’s say a family member is visiting from out of town and their hotel room costs $100 per night (for a nice round number). At the end of their stay, they will also be contributing $2 per night to the TPID (2% of $100). Ultimately, there should be no direct cost to the hotels in the district.
The TPID is projecting to collect $1,576,067 in funding next year, though this projection is based upon pre-COVID data so it may change in a substantial way.
So how will the TPID contribute to Waco’s visitor and tourism economy? The service and assessment plan breaks it down into four areas (you can find a more details on pages 311-313 of the meeting packet):
- Marketing – Increased marketing through a wide variety of means to promote the hotels in the district. In particular, the ability of the TPID to pool resources should allow for access to larger digital media markets. (45% of funding)
- Sales Initiatives – One of the key takeaways from my discussion with Ms. Pendergraft is that the visitor and tourism market is made up of several different groups. There are leisure tourists (those traveling just for fun), the convention crowd, business travelers, bus trips, etc. Each of these different groups requires a little bit of a different strategy. Groups (conventions, bus trips, etc.) that bring more people per trip, and therefore more economic impact per trip, are particularly interested in sales incentives. These incentives may look like discounted rates at local hotels or the convention center. They might also include assistance with transportation, or even event sponsorship. The ability to pool resources through the TPID would make it possible for Waco to use a wide variety of tools to reach out to these kinds of “bulk” visitors. (40% of funding)
- Tourism Research – Research would help improve the effectiveness of the marketing and sales initiatives noted above. Research might mean gathering information about what specific markets to target for marketing or how particular events impact the Waco’s economy. (8% of funding)
- Administration – This would include things like an annual audit and bookkeeping. (7% of funding)
So, if the City Council approves the creation of the TPID and the service and assessment plan, what happens next? The hotels included the district will most likely to form a non-profit organization that would be charged with directing the services of the TPID and preparing the annual service and assessment plan. This non-profit would enter into a contract with the City to receive the funding and staff support from the hard-working folks at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The board of this to-be-formed non-profit would be made of a diverse group of hotel representatives with Mr. Todd Bertka (Director of the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau) representing the City in a non-voting role.
If all works out as it is intended, the TPID could provide significant support to a critical part of Waco’s economy just as it faces a particularly daunting crisis.
Other Interesting (to me) items from the Agenda:
- There are a number of public hearings related to planning at Council this week, things like zoning, subdivisions, short-term rentals. These kinds of items go through a separate group, the Plan Commission, first before making their way to council for final approval. The next scheduled Plan Commission meeting is on August 25th, so be on the lookout for post focused on that meeting soon.
- The city is aiming to reallocate $21,000 in unspent community development block grants towards assisting homeless folks in self-quarantining, a critical health protection for this community during COVID-19. The city had already allocated $10,500 to this program, but that funding is nearly spent.
- The tax rates we touched on two weeks ago have returned for a resolution establishing when the City Council will take their final vote to establish them (September 8th)
Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and now serves as that organization’s treasurer and Pride Planning Chair. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org more information.