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New tourism group in works

Not content with local efforts to attract tourism, a new group is forming to build the sector into a lucrative, convention-based industry.

Lodging and event venue owners and managers formed the group after their attempts to bring their ideas forward to existing tourism outlets went nowhere, said John Zurflueh, director of the Grass Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I presented a concept to the chambers and didn’t hear a thing. It didn’t develop. It just fizzled away,” Zurflueh said this week.



New groups are not needed, said Mary Ann Mueller, president of Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber of Commerce.

This year, existing organizations and joint chambers of commerce are working on a new model for expanding economic development by attracting more visitors, and expanding businesses and local shopping, Mueller said.




If Nevada County supervisors approve, more funding could become available to the six area chambers of commerce for advertising outside the county’s borders. Now, $12,000 is available for this purpose.

And promoting the area as a destination for conventions is nothing new, said Howard Levine, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association.

“We have been doing that for years,” Levine said.

“We just want to maximize what funding we get and not do any duplication,” Mueller said.

Nevertheless, area motel owners got busy earlier this spring, researching other visitor bureaus in places like Sacramento and Placer counties, where bed taxes promote midweek tourism.

On Thursday, Zurflueh went before the county Board of Supervisors to ask for funding for the new group, but was shot down.

Supervisors told him there are too many splinter groups and they can’t fund everything, Zurflueh said.

“We’re probably going to be on our own for a little while,” Zurflueh said.

Looking for help

For every $1 spent at local motels, it has a $7 ripple effect through the rest of the community, said Steve Young, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express.

Business has slowed and midweek, lodging drops off by half, Racz said. By bringing in more visitors to sleep in empty beds midweek, restaurants and local retailers also would benefit, Zurflueh said.

“We’re their largest cash cow, and they do nothing to feed the cow,” added Philip Green, owner of the Sierra Mountain Inn.

Those factors are pushing the new group’s members to seek financial help.

Next week, Zurflueh will meet with Gil Mathew, CEO of the Economic Resource Council.

On Tuesday, the group will appear before the Grass Valley City Council to promote their ideas and seek a 10 percent slice of the city’s annual $500,000 Transient Occupancy Tax revenue.

“It’s our bed tax,” said Kathy Racz, owner of Grass Valley Courtyard Suites on North Auburn Street.

But finding any surplus government money in general fund coffers will be a challenge during the economic downturn, Levine said.

“Assessing themselves is realistic, but getting government money I don’t think is in the cards. In reality, that 10 percent is already being spent,” Levine said.

Plans to grow

Based now in Grass Valley, the group plans to spread out and encompass neighboring Nevada City.

“You can’t promote one area without promoting the whole area,” said Sara Christiansen, of the Best Western Gold Country Inn in Grass Valley. By attracting businesses to area motels for conventions, viable businesses could be enticed to move here permanently, Christiansen said.

Mueller said the group is offering good ideas and she wants them to be a part of future discussions and planning.

“We want to work together with all of these organizations. We want to be all-inclusive,” Mueller said.

Zurflueh wants collaboration, too.

“There’s still barriers here and territorial issues,” Zurflueh said. “We really want to break those down. We’re not here to displace anyone. We see a niche that needs to be filled.”

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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