Over the strong objections of County Councilmember Ernie Trakas [R-District 6], the St. Louis County Council has approved a $100,000 allocation of regional hotel/motel tax money to The Magic House St. Louis Children’s Museum.
Magic House President Elizabeth Fitzgerald told members of the council’s Committee of the Whole on Aug. 1 that the money would be used for an advertising campaign to attract out-of-town visitors from within 200 miles. Money from tourists who pay the full admission price help fund local outreaches such as school field trips and free admission for about 85,000 needy children and families, she said.
But Trakas argued that the Kirkwood attraction was doing well enough that it didn’t need the allocation.
“How will the $100,000 be spent, on what specifically?” Trakas asked, in series of sharp questions to Fitzgerald. “You have no specific plan in place. Am I wrong about that?”
The $100,000 would come from a fund, raised from a 3-½ percent hotel and motel tax, that also has gone for payments on the Dome at America’s Center and the Busch Stadium downtown.
In his arguments, Trakas stressed, “Because it comes from one specific fund doesn’t mean it’s not coming from tax dollars.” However, he failed to convince any of his fellow county councilmembers. When they took their final vote at the council meeting on Aug. 1, Trakas cast the lone “no” vote.
Hazel Erby [D-District 1] was absent, and Rochelle Walton Gray [D-District 4] abstained.
Councilmembers voting in favor were Chairman Sam Page [D-District 2], Colleen Wasinger [R-District 3], Pat Dolan [D-District 5] and Mark Harder [R-District 7].
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission approved the allocation at its March 15 meeting. The Magic House hopes to use the money to attract people in such nearby cities as Kansas City, Jefferson City, Cape Girardeau and Hannibal through the use of commercials, advertising and an online presence.
Fitzgerald estimated that the marketing campaign would bring about 50,000 visitors to The Magic House, many of whom would spend money at other local businesses. But when she was quizzed by Trakas, she acknowledged that her estimation was just a guess.
Fitzgerald said attendance at The Magic House went up after it got an allocation of $50,000 in hotel/motel taxes in 2009; however, that also was the year of a major building expansion.
“Is it going to generate tourism? I think that past experience is going to show that it does,” said Wasinger, whose district includes The Magic House and part of West Newsmagazine’s service area. Wasinger sponsored the legislation seeking the allocation.
Dolan told Fitzgerald, “I appreciate what you’re doing” and said that using money to bring tourists from outside markets is money well spent.