By James Beaty
McAlester city councilors listened as members of an overflow crowd spoke Tuesday night about the importance of the Southeast Expo Center to McAlester and the surrounding area.
By the time they had finished, several of the councilors told those present at the special Tuesday night meeting, they had no intentions of closing the Expo Center.
Those attending the meeting filled the room in the council chambers at City Hall. Others stood outside in the lobby, listening to the proceedings through an open door.
Toward the end of the meeting, Mayor Steve Harrison said he wondered how anyone got the idea the council might be considering closing the Expo Center in the first place.
Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith told him where he got the idea — from the Marketing Alliance marketing plan for the city, which proposed cutting the Expo Center’s budget of more than a half-million dollars down to approximately $45,000.
The special Tuesday night meeting had been called as a workshop for discussion of Marketing Alliance’s proposal presented at the city council meeting on Jan. 8.
Marketing Alliance’s Jan. 8 presentation mainly focused on a discussion regarding the city’s hotel/motel tax, which had originally been passed to promote tourism in the city.
Tuesday night’s meeting had been set strictly as a workshop, with no items set for a vote on the agenda.
However, although no formal vote had been required, city councilors expressed their view on the subject — as did a number of McAlester and Pittsburg County residents, as well as others who live outside the area.
Marketing Alliance President John Abbate had told the council in January there should be a concept behind the city’s tourism marketing plan — guiding and managing tourists to come to McAlester. The Marketing Alliance plan had focused on tourism and how the Mississippi- based company thought the city of McAlester could best spend its money derived from the city’s 4 percent hotel/motel tax.
His suggestions for the city included the creation of a charter-driven convention and visitors bureau, which would be concerned only with tourism development. They suggested turning a portion of the hotel/motel tax funds over to the bureau for tourism development purposes.
McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak opened the Tuesday night meeting, presenting an overview of activities held at the Expo Center. His presentation indicated that although the Expo Center isn’t making a profit, by the time concessions and funds derived from the city’s hotel/motel tax are added, it’s virtually breaking even.
As the meeting continued, a number of individuals spoke before the council, talking about why the Expo Center benefits not only McAlester, but the rest of the county as well.
Among them were former District 3 County Commissioner Randy Crone, who said the council should also consider the amount of sales tax revenue generated by events held at the Expo Center.
Current District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith also spoke to the commissioners about the importance of the Expo Center. He said it would be difficult for the county to take over the operations, since the funds to operate it are derived from the city’s hotel/motel tax.
City councilors also discussed the possibility of raising the hotel/motel tax for the city, which would require approval by a vote of the people.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.
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