Tourism Council brainstorms its way into 2022

Mon, 01/10/2022 - 7:45am

The New Shoreham Tourism Council seems to have a highly unusual problem – more money than they know what to do with. Whether it’s the result of more and more tourists, or more money being charged for hotel rooms and rental houses, or all three, the Tourism Council has an excess of funds. The Council derives most of its revenues from hotel taxes charged by the state of Rhode Island.
June of 2021, while in the last fiscal year accounting-wise, was much busier than normal, and for July through September of 2021 hotel taxes
passed along to the Tourism Council by the state amount to $360,000, whereas for the same period in 2020 the amount was $241,000. “It’s a
massively huge difference,” said Tourism Director Jess Willi.
Adding to the excess is the fact that the expectations for the previous fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021 were exceedingly low due to the pandemic. And as revenues were expected to dive, so did the budget for expenses, the largest of which are for marketing campaigns.

Although the “brainstorming” session was its own agenda item, the conversation got going when it was time to consider the renewal of the lease for the council’s office at the Block Island State Airport. It’s a small office and Willi said she would like more space. However, the rent is only $9,000 per year and there is heat. The Rhode Island Airport Corporation, which manages the airport, prefers leases of at least five years, although Willi said the current lease, which expires in June, is a three-year one.

Member Steve Filippi asked if RIAC would do a six-month lease. He added that he didn’t “like the space” and thought the office should be downtown.

Chair David Houseman noted that anything downtown would be a lot more expensive.
Filippi suggested the second floor of the Post Office building, but Houseman pointed out that there wasn’t really any difference between being on the second floor of the Post Office building and at the airport in terms of visibility.
When some members pushed the idea of a storefront for more “presence,” Willi asked: “Well, why do you want to have a presence?”
“Like a second visitor center?” asked Member Julie Kiley.
Others didn’t think a second visitor center was necessary, and would be a distraction for the already busy Willi without a second employee to deal with the public. Still, Willi said “I would love to have a place where we could meet.”

Earlier in her report from upstate, Willi had talked about the possible availability of grant funds over the next few years. “What if the town and the Tourism Council purchased Finn’s – this is really thinking big,” she suggested, adding that it might be a good space for a gym.

“For $9,000,” said Member John Cullen, “keep the space you have.”

It was suggested that Willi reach out to RIAC and try to negotiate a shorter-term lease, and one that might include a clause allowing them to sublet the office, although Cullen pointed out that at $9,000 per year, they could always use it for storage space at least.

Next on the agenda was “brainstorming” and naturally, the idea, or fantasy, of purchasing Finn’s came right back up. The building that holds Finn’s Restaurant was sold on July 9, 2021 for $2 million, and the iconic seafood restaurant was not open for the entire season. The new owner has recently re-listed the building for sale at $2,100,000.
Kiley, who works in real estate, told the group that the building has 7 large bedrooms, a one-bedroom apartment, and offices besides the restaurant space, fish market, a retail space, and Ernie’s Restaurant. “My client would love to sell it to the town,” she said.