The city of Snoqualmie will once again feature a visitor’s center this year thanks to funding granted by the city council. The city also will begin work on developing its tourism plan by the end of the year.
On March 11, the Snoqualmie City Council approved $11,412 in funding for the Art Gallery of SnoValley to continue its operations as an interim Visitor’s Information Center (VIC). The art gallery has served as the city’s physical location for tourism information since 2017.
The Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce operated the previous VIC before the building was sold to a local business. Since then, the art gallery has applied for the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) funds to operate tourism and way-finding services.
The approval of funding came after two delays by the city council. When first approving the LTAC funding requests in October 2018, the city declined to grant funding to the art gallery for VIC services due to questions surrounding and the need to have a physical location to provide the services, as well as developing the city’s long-term tourism plan. The funding request went back to the Community Development Committee (CDC) for further discussion.
The council was faced with the funding request again in January when it came back to the council. They did not approve it then, delaying discussion on the topic until staff could present a timeline detailing how long development of an updated city tourism plan could take.
At the March 11 meeting, Councilmember Jim Mayhew updated the rest of the council on the discussions held by the CDC. While there isn’t any budget allocated to implement elements of a tourism plan in 2019, there is some funding for staff to create a plan.
“A key point is that there are several fairly recent studies as well as the city’s own comprehensive plan, that includes quite a bit of information on most aspects that would go into a tourist plan,” Mayhew said. “The timeline, therefore, is focused on having the council… and administration spend most of 2019 going over that existing information available, distilling it into a set of priorities and projects that would then be a plan we could then look to fund and implement in 2020.”
Community development director Mark Hofman said work would be done in two phases. The first phase is a re-review of the current programs and policies in place from May to July. Staff will break down what tourism projects are underway, what has been accomplished, and what is unfinished.
The second phase, expected in the fall of 2019, would use the budgeted money for specialized external assistance to develop the plan for 2020.
With a timeline presented to the council, Mayhew requested the approval of the art gallery’s funding request for 2019.
The $11,412 request was approved in a 5-2 vote, with councilmembers Katherine Ross and Peggy Shepard voting against the request. Ross said she voted against the funding because she believes the money could be used on a project under development by the chamber of commerce.
The chamber is working on electronic, way-finding kiosks as part of its tourism plan. Ross said investing in the chamber project would be more beneficial than the visitor’s center because more people use them to access information.
“(The art gallery is) stating they may only get 6,700 visitors in there, and I don’t think that represents what we receive at the train depot every summer, which is about 120,000 people or what we see at the falls which is about 2 million people,” she said. “So I’m not sure that funding this visitors center makes sense to us. I think that $11,000 could be used perhaps on these kiosks that the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber is trying to install.”
Hofman said the city is monitoring the chamber program, but are not directly involved. Further observation of the success of the kiosks will inform the city’s view on the future of tourism information services.”
“Are we going to be a mobile-phone oriented visitor center, or are we going to have some presence of brick and mortar like we had previously,” Hofman said. “What this LTAC request does is gives us time to study all that and get those programs in place.”
The Art Gallery of SnoValley will run its visitor information center services from Memorial Day, May 27, to Labor Day, Sept. 2, 2019.