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City ends dispute with chamber arm

Almost two years of drama over Travel Medford's future ended when the Medford City Council last week decided to continue spending its tourism dollars with the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

The council split 5-3 for the five-year agreement that has an option for a six-year renewal followed by a second renewal of four years, potentially locking in the city and chamber relationship for up to 15 years, barring any contract failure. 

Under the new contract that starts in July 2018, Travel Medford will increase spending for event promotion from the current $30,000 to $50,000. The current biennial budget for Travel Medford, according to the city, is $2.31 million.

The new contract had been hammered out over the past year, and even critics of the city and chamber agreement say the new deal is better than the old deal.

"We had long, tough conversations to get there," said Councilor Tim D'Alessandro, who voted for the contract.

Councilor Clay Bearnson, who has been a critic of the chamber and Travel Medford, said he participated in the discussions for the new contract but couldn't support it because he thought the city should go out to bid.

Councilor Kevin Stine voted against the contract but said the new arrangement allots more money for promoting events in the area.

"This is better than the old contract," he said.

But he said the majority of the council thought the long history that the city has had with the chamber played into its decision. 

"The majority of the council feels we shouldn't look at other options," Stine said.

The city has contracted with the chamber for more than 40 years to fund Travel Medford. In the past, councilors voiced concern that the chamber’s political agenda might interfere with Travel Medford’s ability to promote events fairly. Over the past year, the chamber has worked to improve its communications with the city to help address concerns that were raised.

Eli Matthews, senior vice president of Travel Medford, said his organization is happy to get the support of a majority of the council after spending considerable effort developing a new contract with the city.

"For me, a lot had to do with focusing on the work rather than getting caught in the weeds of politics," he said.

He said Travel Medford has proactively started some of the new requirements long before the contract was adopted.

Previously, Matthews' organization wasn't required to have annual or quarterly reports but has already been presenting them to the council.

He said he also offered to have a study session about travel and tourism every year to clear up misconceptions and to create new directions to promote the area.

"That gives us the chance to spend more time face-to-face," Matthews said.

The new tourism council will review and approve Travel Medford's budget and strategic marketing plan. An annual fall retreat for the tourism council will help give better direction for the organization as well, Matthews said.

He said there have been significant changes, including increasing the event promotion budget, which was $15,000 in 2015-16.

Some of the events that Travel Medford will promote through printing costs, banners, social media and marketing expertise include Art in Bloom, the Southern Oregon Music Festival, Medford Comic Con, Medford Beer Week and other festivals.

Matthews said Travel Medford will also promote cannabis-related events, and he's hoping more people from the cannabis industry step forward to develop ideas to promote tourism.

"Cannabis tourism is on the tourism agenda big time," he said. "It's on our radar."

Matthews said Travel Medford is operating under an estimated budget for 2017-18 of $992,223, which is derived from 25 percent of the revenues raised from Medford's transient and lodging tax. Travel Medford, which made a conservative estimate of revenues, operates on an annual budget, while the city operates on a biennial budget.

Rent, operations, salaries and three visitor information centers account for 37.2 percent of the budget, with much of the remainder going to marketing. The visitor centers attracted 30,000 people last year.

In 2016-2017, Travel Medford spent $137,108 on TV spots in the Bay Area, Sacramento and around Portland and Washington. These are the locations where the majority of the visitors to this area come from.

The main attraction is outdoor activities, sightseeing and wine tasting, as well as food and drink.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.