Note: The following is a letter submitted by the TCLA directed towards Camden County Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty.
Dear Commissioner Hasty:
This letter is in response to your letter sent to our office on Nov. 14, 2019 and addressed to the TCLA board. As a board comprised of volunteers dedicated to promoting tourism at the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks, we share your concern for the economic growth and well-being of the Lake. Lake of the Ozarks, the “funlake,” hosts approximately 5 million visitors per year. Having been named “The Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” by the readers of USA Today, Lake of the Ozarks is considered one of the best vacation destinations in the Midwest.
After reviewing your letter, we feel compelled to address some inconsistencies and errors in your letter. You claim your position on the proposed soccer complex was not taken into consideration and that you predicted the failure of the measure in the November election to the staff of the Lake Expo.
However, a careful examination of all the Lake Expo coverage of this issue finds comments from you at a Feb. 19 public meeting that were included in an article the following day -- Lake Expo article on Feb. 20, 2019. The article reads:
Camden County PresidingCommissioner Greg Hasty spoke in near-pleading terms with the group to support the project and lodging tax increase to fund it.
“This could … begin to transform our Lake of the Ozarks into a full-time place where you can raise your kids, have them go off to school, and come back to make a living,” [Hasty] said. “We need to be doing things that transform our economy and create high-paying jobs. Anything we can do toward that end we need to be in on. We have got to stop thinking about ‘this won’t work, this won’t work, this won’t work.’ A soccer complex would be a great way to introduce people to Lake of the Ozarks for the first time,” [Hasty] argued, “and those people will likely return as vacationers and even second homeowners. We need to take bold steps,” [Hasty] said.
This would seem to place you among the many business leaders, community leaders and industries who not only saw the value of bringing additional “shoulder season” business to the Lake but whole-heartedly supported those efforts. Since the use of a lodging tax as a funding mechanism for the soccer complex was not supported by voters, TCLA will continue to explore alternative ways to bring more visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks. This is not only in accordance with our mission statement, but there is no other organization at the Lake, past or present, that has been more dedicated to promoting tourism in the Tri-County area than TCLA.
Although opposition to the soccer complex has used denigrating language to describe the TCLA board elected by our fellow lodging members, we feel it important to note here that we pride ourselves in being dedicated and respected home- and business-owners within our community. As board members we volunteer our time, work and service to the TCLA for the continued promotion and development of tourism in Miller, Morgan and Camden Counties. Many of us (board members) have lived and worked at the Lake of the Ozarks for most of our lives and care deeply about the Lake-area’s continued growth and future economic development opportunities.
The fact that we were recently willing to explore a new and alternative approach in an effort to attract new shoulder season business should speak for itself. We feel this demonstrates the TCLA’s commitment to grow the Lake’s economy that we all depend on for our livelihood.
Our tourism industry is diversified and growing. Since the inception of the lodging tax, collected for the first time in fiscal year 1994, collections have increased 17.5 percent and sales and use tax collections for the three counties has experienced a 128 percent increase. These increases point to a thriving economy and one that has greatly improved over the past 25 years. There is benefit to both the lodging community and the general business community as well, despite changes in the nature of tourism at the Lake, like the loss of many small resorts and hotels and the growth of the individual vacation rentals. Though some of these rentals neither collect nor remit the lodging tax, they still benefit from the efforts of TCLA in the same way all Lake area businesses do, as these facts clearly show.
We would ask you to consider that, before TCLA, the former Lake Association promoted the Lake of the Ozarks with an annual budget of approximately $180,000, collected through donations raised by calls from volunteers to local businesses for support. In contrast, last year’s lodging tax collections were the largest in 18 years, totaling $1.78 million to help market the Lake.
You also expressed concern that you had not received information regarding the TCLA board meetings, yet our records indicate you have been sent a (pre-meeting) board packet for every monthly meeting since January 2017, as were the commissioners that preceded you in office. This board packet notes the date, time and location of the meeting, the agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting along with other reports and information. The attendance records for these meetings, which are clearly outlined at the top of the meeting minutes, show you have been marked absent, as you have not attended any of the meetings over the past three years, despite being invited every month.
We will continue to invite you to these meetings and encourage you to attend. Rather than calling for new elections of all board members, we invite you to acquaint yourself with the current board members and what they do for TCLA. By attending TCLA meetings, you can also better familiarize yourself with how TCLA functions and the extensive efforts taken by TCLA to promote the entire travel and tourism industry at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Each year we develop a comprehensive budget and plan to promote the Lake of the Ozarks with the funds available. By using all forms of advertising & marketing, robust sales tactics, aggressive social media campaigns and a strategic public relations plan, TCLA’s administration executes that plan over the course of each fiscal year (July – June).
TCLA helps to fund many fishing tournaments, special events, celebrations and festivals as well as miscellaneous requests for funding to help bring visitors/tourism dollars to the Lake of the Ozarks.
Some of the fishing tournaments we (TCLA) help fund and/or promote include:
FLW Wal-Mart Bass Regional
Big Bass Bash Spring Tournament
Big Bass Bash Fall Tournament
High School Bass Tournament
Anglers in Action
Local 148 Ameren Engineers
FLW College Tournament
Twisted Cat Tournament
Catch A Vet
FLW BFL Regional Championship
Major League Fishing TV Show
In addition, following is a list of some of the special events, festivals and celebrations funded and/or promoted by TCLA:
The Air Show in Camdenton
The Magic Dragon Street Meet Nationals (Car Show on Bagnell Dam)
The Lake Race
Hot Summer Nights
Wicked Wine Run
The Bridal Show
Bridge & Dam Half Marathon
Civil War Reenactment
Our records indicate that you attended at least one public meeting in the past and have heard the information detailing the budget and marketing/promotion outline for the Lake of the Ozarks. An additional informational meeting was also held in your office which was attended by other commissioners and a few of the TCLA board members.
In addition, your letter referenced a meeting regarding lodging from which you were excluded. Please be advised that it was Expedia that held a meeting for homeowners and they controlled who was invited to attend and who wasn’t. The lobbyists you referred to were hired by Expedia to affectlegislation regarding short-term home rentals. TCLA was generally opposed to this legislation. Our only concern was if the legislation were to be successful there would be provisions for Expedia to collect and remit the lodging tax on their platforms/properties. In essence, we were asking for the lodging tax state statute to be enforced.
Your letter noted a decline in visitation to the outlet mall. Unfortunately, Tri-County businesses are not immune to the changing landscape of retail across the country, as online shopping increases. However, as the Lake area has grown, so have retail options. Shoppers are taking advantage of the variety of shopping opportunities that are available at the Lake. Surely the increase in sales tax that we mentioned before, points to the successful efforts of the TCLA in attracting visitors for many reasons.
Finally, we would like to address your comments about the airport and convention center. An independent feasibility study was conducted concerning the airport expansion and regional flights out of Lee C. Fine. That study concluded the area could not provide a sufficient passenger base to attract and support a commercial air carrier. As to the convention center, a general sales tax increase was placed on the ballot in 2005 and was defeated by the voters at the Lake of the Ozarks. TCLA, as one of the initiators for this ballot measure, was as deeply disappointed in its defeat as you were.
Commissioner, we have appreciated your work as the Presiding Commissioner of Camden County and welcome you to take advantage of your role as an “advisory” board member by attending our meetings. By working together we will ensure the continued success of our promotion and development efforts of Camden, Miller and Morgan Counties as a desirable travel and tourism destination.
The Tri-County Lodging Association Board