With one week to go before a vote on a proposed lodging tax increase to fund a destination soccer complex, the opposition is becoming more vocal, raising some tough questions they want answered.

With one week to go before a vote on a proposed lodging tax increase to fund a destination soccer complex, the opposition is becoming more vocal, raising some tough questions they want answered.

The soccer destination proposal is drawing considerable attention as some lodging owners and citizens have stepped forward with concerns they would like addressed prior to the vote on Nov. 5 in Morgan, Miller and Camden counties. If passed, the lodging tax in Morgan and Camden counties would go from 3% to 6%. State law sets the maximum lodging tax at 6%.

A group of business owners and concerned citizens have organized a social media campaign, “Protect Small Businesses, Vote No” on the lodging tax increase. They believe the tax increase will have a negative impact on small “generational” resorts and other small businesses around Lake of the Ozarks.

A contingent of resort owners and others opposed to the proposal have attended public forums hosted by the Citizens for Promotion of Sports Tourism at Lake of the Ozarks, a group of businesses, lodging association members and others who support the proposal. They have also met with the Camden County Commission and attended a Tri-County Lodging Association business meeting last week with little response to the questions that have been raised about everything from how TCLA went about gathering support for the project to the long-term impact of the proposed lodging tax increase.

Gail Griswold, a lodging business owner, is leading the effort of concerned citizens who oppose the tax. Griswold said there are multiple concerns with how the proposal is being promoted and what will transpire if approved.

“We believe this tax increase will have a negative impact on small generational resorts and other small businesses all around the lake. And the way the proposal currently reads, there is no reason to believe the complex will be available free of charge to local youth,” Griswold said.

Griswold outlined a list of concerns, beginning with the question of what happens with the lodging tax if it passes and there is no sunset clause. Griswold pointed to the limit of 6% as defined in state statute as the maximum lodging tax allowed.

• “The lodging tax in Morgan and Camden counties will be raised from 3% to 6%. Miller County will be raised from 5% to 6%. This is the maximum lodging tax allowed by state law, so limits our ability to market the lake for decades to come,” Griswold said.

• “This tax never sunsets (expires), and will be tied to a bond that will take 20-plus years to pay back, whether the soccer complex makes money or not. Many of the important recommendations in the XO/Heartland proposal for this development were not followed, including developing a budget and releasing a comprehensive final report before a tax was put to a vote.”

• Griswold said the ballot language in the three counties is different, adding to confusion on what the tax will be used for.

• Griswold recommends voters read the read the ballot language carefully where it says ‘including but not limited to.’ 

• Griswold said their interpretation of that means that this tax doesn’t have to go to the soccer complex.

• “That is what we want the voters to understand. This tax does not have to go to the soccer complex,” she said.

• Among other questions are:

• The TCLA can use the money in any way they want to promote tourism. They already receive over $1.5 million annually with the current lodging tax. What opportunity is there to better manage the money they already collect?

• Information on how the current $1.5 million being collected is being used is not easily traceable. Many of us have been trying to get answers for months, but have been sent on a goose chase.

• *State statute 67.1170 to 67.1180 clearly outline how the special business districts are to operate. It is supposed to be for the promotion of the lake as a whole, not a special interest project to primarily benefit an outside developer.

• Based on the Soccer Complex Information provided, the City of Osage Beach will have to manage and schedule their own referees. How are they going to manage and pay for that? And does this give the tournament organizers a reason to move their tournaments if enough referees cannot be hired? Similar things have happened at complexes built in recent years.

• Where does the $75 million in revenue come from that supporters are promoting.

The recommended site for an 8-field synthetic turf DTSC is located on 51 acres in Osage Beach within the Arrowhead Development project, which is the former Dogwood Hills Golf Course. The Arrowhead Development Group has donated the land and committed to building an access road to the DTSC off Nichols Road should the tax increase pass. The City of Osage Beach has a cooperative agreement with TCLA to bond, design, build, own and operate the DTSC if voters approve the proposal.

The Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) and Tri County Lodging Association (TCLA) have been studying for quite some time, how they could bring additional visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks and increase the economic activity of the entire Lake Area. In 2016 the CVB & TCLA completed a two-phase feasibility study conducted by Convention & Sports Leisure (CSL) on recreational complexes. The study indicated the Lake Area could support a DTSC with 12-14 tournaments with 50-300 teams each weekend in the spring and again in the fall. It is estimated that this would have a $75 million economic impact annually for the Lake Area.

Since the completion of the CSL feasibility study, the CVB, TCLA and other local businesses and organizations moved forward with exploring how a DTSC complex could be funded, designed, built, and operated in the most efficient manner possible. XO Strategic, a company owned by former Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer and former owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Deron Cherry, and led by former Major League Soccer executives and youth soccer entrepreneurs, were engaged to operationalize the CSL study. On December 4, 2018, XO Strategic rendered their report that concluded that the Lake Area had a unique opportunity to capitalize on the growing $17 billion youth sports industry by constructing a DTSC financed primarily from a proposed increase in the lodging tax at the Lake. The TCLA Board of Directors approved the November 2019 election initiative that seeks a 3% increase in the lodging tax in Camden County, a 1% increase in the lodging tax in Miller County and a 3% increase in the lodging tax in Morgan County.