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Morro Bay explores bringing in visitors

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The Morro Bay City Council is taking a pause on the proposed visitor center relocation so it can research other options to increase the number of visitors and, ultimately, revenue for local businesses.

"Visitors pay 70 percent of our sales tax and all of our transient occupancy tax. I need to see how our visitor center fits into producing that income," Councilmember Robert Davis said at the Feb. 25 council meeting. "I'm looking on a return for an investment on the visitor center."

GATHERING VISITORS The Morro Bay City Council is asking its staff for more information on a proposed visitor center budget and other options for bringing in visitors. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MORRO BAY
  • Photo Courtesy Of The City Of Morro Bay
  • GATHERING VISITORS The Morro Bay City Council is asking its staff for more information on a proposed visitor center budget and other options for bringing in visitors.

If the city moved to relocate the visitor center to a recently vacated storefront—at 575 Embarcadero—it would cost an estimated $51,500 for fiscal year 2019-20 to support the build-out and start-up of the center, enhance staffing, and lease the building. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the total costs for the center are anticipated to be about $116,000.

The funds would go toward continuing a contract with the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce to operate the center 365 days a year, an onsite manager at 32-hours a week and part-time staff, an option for local consignment space, and maintenance for the public ADA accessible bathroom.

The current budget for the visitor center is $50,000.

A staff report on the issue recommended that the additional $64,500 could potentially come from a combination of the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) accumulation funds and operating funds. The proposed location would have a five-year lease.

The City Council voted against the recommendation, and instead unanimously voted to approve a subcommittee made up of Councilmembers Robert Davis and Marlys McPherson to review visitor center best practices and other funding models for the center and to report those findings back to the council by April.

The subcommittee will also work with staff to explore other options of bringing visitors to the area, which could be in the form of a kiosk or app, potentially eliminating the brick-and-mortar center.

Scott Collins, Morro Bay's city manager, told New Times the City Council's primary objective is to get a better understanding of what the intended outcome of the visitor center is. The center's purpose, he said, is education, awareness, and connecting visitors to what the city has to offer.

"Ultimately, hopefully, it would also increase business transactions with lodging and retail, and hopefully, it also increases revenue to the city. You know all those things are very important to a city, so what's the best mechanism to deliver that," Collins said.

The existing visitor center, operated by the Chamber of Commerce, is located at 695 Harbor St. outside of the visitor-serving area of the city. According to the chamber's 2019 proposal, the current center served 5,072 visitor inquiries from its current location, a decrease from 8,225 visitors in 2016. Of the inquiries received in 2018, 60 percent were for day-stay assistance (directions, maps, events, recreational activities) and 12 percent were for business referrals—lodging, retail, dining, and other similar activities. Δ

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