OPINION — As president of the Visit Spearfish, Inc. Board of Directors, I find myself writing a letter I never thought I would have to write. I have been a member of this board since the inception of Visit Spearfish in 2009. The organization has grown from a one-person operation that operated in a small office in city hall, to a four-person operation that routinely hires Black Hills State University graduates and provides internships to students every year. The organization has helped grow the hospitality tax, also known as the BBB tax, year after year. Visit Spearfish Inc. was a trendsetter in South Dakota as one of the first Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) to operate autonomously from a parent organization. As our success became evident, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and now Brookings have followed suit and separated their DMO’s from parent organizations because it is a successful formula, both regionally and nationally.
Unfortunately, our city council and city administration is considering a budget proposal that would send the organization back to 2009 because of a proposed 100% cut in the hospitality tax allocation requested annually by Visit Spearfish. There are several other organizations that request funding from the BBB tax, and every organization that made a request and has received funding in the past is being proposed a cut of just 10%. Every. Single. One. Except for Visit Spearfish, who is being expected to absorb a 100% cut in their allocation. One Hundred Percent.
This is the organization that has helped numerous groups with sponsorship seed money to help them grow their events. The Dakota Five-O, Gravel Grinder, and 28 Below Bike Races. Black Hills National Wrestling Tournament. Queen City Basketball Tournament. Chinook Days. Downtown Friday Nights. The Black Hills Beer Run. The Black Hills Corvette Classic. Leading Ladies Marathon. The list could go on and on, but the point I am making is Visit Spearfish is not only one of the leading DMO’s in the five-state region, but they also foster the growth of numerous events that bring people to the area, and as a bonus, these events benefit our residents as well.
The money traditionally entrusted to Visit Spearfish is being earmarked for the new softball and soccer fields to be built in the housing development near Exit 17. We get it, the fields are needed. I personally have been working to get a sports complex here, not only for softball and soccer, but for hockey, basketball, swimming, and more. This is needed in the community. Our executive director at Visit Spearfish has also expressed the need for such a complex. However, what seems to be missing in city hall and by some council members is that to be able to afford a complex such as this, tournaments need to be held. I have exhausted numerous resources garnering information on running a successful sports complex, and every complex director has told me “you must have tournaments.” To ensure the success of these tournaments, the first place tournament directors are going to turn to is their destination marketing organization, because that is the absolute most logical partnership to market these tournaments. In my research on sports complexes, many families that travel for their kid’s sports go to a minimum of three out of town tournaments a year. The determining factors on where they go are the quality of the tournament and the availability of other attractions in the area. Spearfish has that, but it must be marketed to the potential tournament traveler. Putting together a nice complex that can host tournaments only to decimate the very organization that will have the most effect promoting these events is akin to purchasing the best vehicle you can buy but cutting your gas budget by 100%. It is just not good business sense. We do not decimate the police department to pay for the fire department. We do not build new parks and lengthen bike paths and then defund the very department that takes care of them. And we should not eliminate the hospitality allocation to the one department whose sole purpose is to increase visitation to Spearfish which of course, affects the hospitality dollar intake.
I implore each and every one of you that has a fraction of business coming from out of town visitors to contact City Administrator Mike Harmon, Mayor Dana Boke, and every one of the six council people; Larry Klarenbeek, Pam Jacobs, Darick Eisenbraun, Marty Clark, Rob Hermann, and Dan Hodgs and express your displeasure about tourism funding being cut 100% from by the city. There are so many businesses affected by tourism dollars – especially in the Black Hills. Whether you interact with visitors or support businesses that do, tourism also affects so many of us here in Spearfish. For the city to turn its back on the DMO that has successfully marketed the area for 12 years is a slap in the face to every one of the tourism affected business owners and managers and the importance you have in the community. Please, take a stand and make your voice heard.
Mark Kazmer is the president of the Visit Spearfish, Inc. Board of Directors.