City-Chamber Sign New Economic Development Contract

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 15, 2021

The City of Morro Bay and Chamber of Commerce have inked a new, 3-year contract, and extended an increased scope of work they reached last spring just as the coronavirus pandemic response and business closures were getting started.

The new contract was approved June 22 by a unanimous council, and includes allowing the Chamber to continue to occupy the city-owned former visitor’s center building, 695 Harbor St., with rent set at $1 a year. The new pact also increases the annual stipend by $12,000 to $90,000 a year, up from the previous $78,000.

It does have a stipulation — reimbursable expenses are to be capped at $10,000 a year and subject to written approval by the city manager or the finance director. “Total cost for the three year contract,” reads a staff report by City Manager Scott Collins, “is a total, not-to-exceed amount of $300,000 for the full three years.”

The new contract does not include having the Chamber run a Visitor’s Center for the City, after the Chamber in April 2020 sent a letter to the City asking to end that arrangement.
The State’s mass shutdown of “non-essential businesses” in March 2020 and the Governor’s stay-at-home orders to residents, sent a shockwave through the local business sector and had the City scrambling to enact an emergency funding plan.

One of the first things the City did was to close the Visitor’s Center and dissolve the City’s Tourism Bureau, laying off the tourism director and one part-time employee, but keeping one staffer, who has been serving as the staff person for the Tourism Business Improvement District or TBID, even though it ceased all tourism promotions.

The City in its attempts to address the pandemic, went so far as to run advertisements in Central Valley media asking people not to come to Morro Bay, which didn’t exactly work, as last summer’s visitors were pretty close to normal in numbers, even though the motels were restricted to renting just a percentage of rooms and restaurants had to close their dinning rooms.

“In the past,” Collins report to the council said, “the City would typically budget $50,000 annually for the Chamber to provide Visitor Center services. Staff does not recommend entering into a new contract for Visitor Center services until we have a better handle on how Visitor Center services fit into the overall needs and priorities of the City and the tourism industry.”

TBID is in the process of taking back tourism promotions from the City and will form a non-profit, hire its own staff and consultants.
Back in Fiscal Year 2019/20, the City and Chamber signed a 1-year deal for economic development services. In March 2020, the Council wanted to expand the contract “to account for additional services needed to support our business community resulting from the significant economic fallout from the pandemic.”

In May 2020 the new contract “proposed expanded services to our local business community, partnering at the regional level for state and federal assistance and assisting the City and business community in the long-term recovery efforts, and continuity of existing economic development services provided to the City prior to COVID-19,” according to the report.

That amendment upped the Chamber’s contracted amount from $62,000 to $78,000 a year.
“The Chamber was instrumental in helping the local Morro Bay business community weather a very challenging year,” Collins said. “They provided the business community with regular informational updates, connected businesses to funding opportunities, and served/continues to serve on the City’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC) team.

“While carrying out these new functions, the Chamber developed stronger regional connections by serving on various REACH committees and helping launch REACH’s Practitioner Network, which serves to connect interested businesses and developers to cities within the SLO County and Santa Barbara County region and learn best practices from each other.

The Chamber also put together a “robust” stakeholder’s report on the City’s land use/planning review process, which Collins said was “the catalyst to jump starting the City’s efforts to review and improve this key process for bringing new business to community.”
Collins said the City administration is happy with the Chamber’s efforts. “City staff are very satisfied with the economic development services provided by the Chamber,” he said.

In this fiscal year (2020/21) the Chamber has proposed to:
• Supporting and developing local business through their “Roadmap to Success” program;
• Enhancing local and regional coordination with partners such as REACH, Cal Poly, SLO County, cities within the SLO region, and the newly revised Morro Bay Tourism Business Improvement District, which will be overseen by a non-profit board beginning in July 2021;
• Showcasing the City’s various opportunity sites, and,
• Continued support for the City to review and improve the planning review process.
The City added to the list of duties for the Chamber’s new contract, which now expires at the end of FY 2023/24 (June 30, 2024). They are:
• Execute creative place making initiatives to benefit economic centers citywide. Initiatives to include a flagpole banner program in the Downtown Waterfront Strategic Plan area and future projects as identified. External cost (sic);
• Monitor and assist with completion of citywide way finding signage; and,
• Assess need and feasibility of the formation of a Business Improvement District in the Downtown Waterfront Strategic Plan Area. Serve as project manager to oversee stakeholder engagement and production of a Feasibility Study with a professional consultancy firm.
The Chamber will host its first Business Mixer in over a year from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, July 21 at The Avocado Shack, 2190 N. Main St. Food provided by Milanés Cuban Cuisine.

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