The Manhattan City Commission acted prudently Tuesday in rejecting an increase in the transient guest tax to boost the subsidy for the Flint Hills Discovery Center.
The transient guest tax is the so-called bed tax that is added to the bills of motel and hotel guests. The city’s guest tax is 6 percent, which generates about $1.2 million a year. One-sixth of the bed tax, about $204,000, would be allocated for the Discovery Center in 2015.
Instead of raising the bed tax, commissioners, who did not take a formal vote, seemed inclined to provide about $78,000 from other guest tax revenue to the Discovery Center. That will mean a modest adjustment for the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, which had hoped to use the money to further market this community, but the Discovery Center itself is a strong marketing asset.
The addition of nearly $78,000 will help, but it won’t put the Discovery Center in the black. That’s because although the center’s revenue in its first full calendar year was about what was projected, expenses exceeded the projections by more than $100,000. Some of the additional bed-tax money will be invested in turning a part-time position into a full-time job to expand educational and public programming and in the process bolster the bottom line.
Fred Goss, director of the Discovery Center, told commissioners that splitting the coordinator’s position with the Sunset Zoo has undermined the generation of revenue at both facilities.
Mayor Wynn Butler did not oppose the full-time position, but he made clear that the new position will be expected to more than pay for itself in the coming year by attracting additional revenue.
“If we add this other position, at the end of the year, the challenge is you’ve got to have the books balanced. It’s just that simple. If not, we need to chop something out of the Discovery Center.”
The Discovery Center’s need for money gives some credence to critics who from the outset feared that the center would become a drain on the city budget. In our view, such a judgment is premature. As Commissioner Usha Reddi pointed out, the center, which she said has “almost become the face of Manhattan,” is still quite young.
That’s a fair comment, but it doesn’t diminish the validity of Mayor Butler’s challenge to Mr. Goss and the Discovery Center.