A local hotel operator is upset and confused about the regional district’s decision to sever its ties with the Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS).
What’s at stake, for Grant Smith, the general manager of Bayview Hotel, is an arrangement for local hotel tax revenue for CVEDS, which, in turn, has helped support events such as the BC Seafood Festival and Nautical Days.
There was a plan for the two per cent municipal regional district tax (MRDT), which covers Courtenay hotels, to go up to three per cent in the hopes of raising more revenue through the broader region. In his case, he runs a large hotel with 40 employees and an annual payroll of $1.4 million, all of which, he says, is boosted by the kinds of events that CVEDS helped co-ordinate.
“We were a real working group doing good things for this Valley,” Smith said. “It’s just such as shame.”
Smith says he had heard “rumblings” that some were unhappy with CVEDS. However, he had not, through his dealings with the CVEDS board, had anyone contact him directly about problems. He has talked to a couple of CVRD board members and is convinced they did not make a fully informed decision.
“I don’t even think the board connected the dots,” he said.
Beyond this, he questions the logic of the CVRD board ending the relationship only partway through a two-year extension for CVEDS. The board has given CVEDS six months’ notice for the end of the relationship, which has been in place for more than two decades.
The decision, to Smith, is also coming while local tourism is still reeling from the downturn in the economy due to the pandemic. Beyond this, he has no idea what the regional district has planned as a replacement for CVEDS.
To Smith, the decision means lost revenue to support tourism initiatives, along with other projects like donating to bike trails. As well, with the expansion of the tax regionally, the hope was to earmark the portion from Airbnbs’ MRDT toward a fund to support affordable housing and combat homelessness. Smith estimates that based on sales, this would have amounted to $360,000 right away for affordable housing or homeless shelters.
“That’s real money,” he said.
At present, he has other concerns such as the mortgage on the visitor centre out of which CVEDS operated and whether the loan will be revised, or what will happen with the MRDT revenue collected with CVEDS no longer the recipient for funding.
“They’ve literally undermined the tax…. There’s no mechanism for the provincial government to pay that money back to our community,” he said. “It’s up in the air. They need to get something going.”
Smith cites events such as the Seafood Festival, in which he has played a key role, and others as benefits from the relationship.
“I take a lot of pride in the Seafood Festival. That was kind of my baby,” he said. “Every event brought more success to the valley.”
Not everyone on the festival circuit is surprised though at what has happened with CVEDS. Doug Cox of the Vancouver Island MusicFest has spoken before of his organization’s frustration with CVEDS, specifically over funding that was withdrawn for a winter music series. He says it was the only funding organization with which he has had issues over honoring a contract.
“We did have a contract with them,” he said. “They pulled out without even telling us.”
Cox is now looking forward to new partners for tourism marketing in the future.
“I think that this change is going to have a profound positive effect on marketing cultural tourism in the Comox Valley,” he said.
In response to Smith’s concern about what the regional district plans to replace of CVEDS, regional district chief administrative officer Russell Dyson told The Record the CVRD is looking for an economic recovery and resilience co-ordinator on contract for two years to work both on economic recovery initiatives and to transition away from CVEDS beyond the six-month notice period. Beyond the short-term, he said representatives from the CVRD members —in other words, the electoral areas as well as Courtenay and Comox — are to set out a long-term vision for economic development. Whether that means the members work more on their own, along the lines of the Village of Cumberland, or in collaboration will be determined through these discussions.
“They are in the midst of this service review, and it will really determine what the participants want from a regional service or if they want anything at all,” Dyson said.
The service review meetings are being held in camera, but the results will be made public.
(Note: This story has been edited to correct information about events CVEDS has supported.)