A spirited back and forth on the value of heritage tourism to the city of Ste. Genevieve took place during last Thursday’s budget work session for the Board of Aldermen.
It was the board’s 10th budget work session of 2019, as it prepares to pass a budget ahead of the October 1 start of fiscal year 2020.
Longtime Foundation For Restoration of Ste. Genevieve members and tourism leaders Jack and Mickey Koetting both addressed the board, as did local historian Bob Mueller and Audubon’s Grill and Bar co-owner Jim Ferguson.
Mickey Koetting suggested the tourism budget should remain the same or be increased,
“We’re seeing more and more tourists coming down here,” she said. “When the school tours come down, we’ve seen them coming into the [foundation’s Guibourd-Valle] house. Those have been more and more.
“But, better than that, we’re getting adult tours coming into town. And those people, once they have toured, they give them time to go and spend money.”
She denied the claim that only downtown businesses gain anything from tourism.
“The money that they [downtown merchants] make, they go and spend in town,” she said.
She said the money “trickles down, to the benefit of everyone.”
“It’s not just those few people who have tourism dollars put directly into their hands,” Mickey Koetting said.
She said those claims “just make me so mad.” …
Ward 1 Alderwoman Susie Johnson said she had spoken to Ken and Patty Lewis, owners of Lewsi Winery.
“They moved their business here from Springfield because they came here as tourists and loved the town so much,” she said. “And I think I could probably name half a dozen other small business owners who came here as tourists and are now running small businesses, or at the very least are retired and are living here.”
“Not to dispel the importance of tourism,” Ward 4 Alderman Joe Prince said. “It is important. I’ve brought this up, former alderman [Randy] Ruzicka brought it up last year, and now we’re talking about it again.
“Yes, tourism is important. The question is, does it take precedence over stuff that we are legally required to have, such as police, fire, water, streets, and all that?”
Prince quoted statistics that said the city had increased its spending on tourism by 611 percent since 2007, while the increase in sales tax receipts had failed to keep up with the 18.22 percent inflation rate during that time period.
Ward 3 Alderman Mike Raney brought up the idea he and Prince had formulated of forming a non-profit entity to fund local tourism.
“I’m not anti-tourism,” Raney said. “I’m pro-tourism. Joe Prince came up with this, and I would say, if funded by the right source, we might even double that budget. We might need to go out and do way more than we’re doing currently. We might need to increase staff.”
See complete story in the September 11 edition of the Herald.