City chops 2013 BTAC tourism grant funding

Published on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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Tourist season is generally accompanied by festivals for the city of Blaine, with events such as Wings over Water, the Old Fashioned 4th of July and Drayton Harbor Days drawing visitors from far and wide. But in 2013, these iconic events have to surmount a major deficit in their budgets before the show can go on.

The fallout from the closure of the Semiahmoo Resort has been tough for Blaine. Facing a significant loss of tax revenue from the resort, the city has been exploring ways to keep its budget in the black. Since city officials don’t want to bank on the possibility of the resort reopening in the near future, it means cuts all around. 

One area hit especially hard by those cuts has been the Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee’s (BTAC) grant program. Each year, the committee currently led by Blaine city council member Ken Oplinger reviews grant applications for tourism-related events that help bring visitors into the community, and hopefully convince them to stay awhile. “The committee advises the city council how the funds should be distributed,” Oplinger said. “The announcement of Semiahmoo’s closure came out after BTAC had already made funding recommendations for 2013.”

What this means is that the city has had to do an about-face and send letters to the award grantees and tell them their promised funding was no longer available. “All we had left in the reserves was $82,000,” Oplinger said. Each year the city typically spends around $190,000, which not only pays for the BTAC grants, but also the visitor information center and tourism marketing. 

“It’s unfortunate,” said Christina Alexander, director of the Peace Arch Park International Sculpture Exhibition. “We’ve already sent out our call for art and people are turning in their entries for next year.” In its 16th year, the exhibition is primarily supported through the BTAC grants. Alexander said they haven’t planned on canceling the event yet, but will make their decision early in 2013 after they explore ways to find alternative funding. “We’ll be looking to the community for support,” Alexander said. 

Groups such as the Pacific Arts Association (PAA) have reacted to the loss of the funding by taking a proactive stance right off the bat, and have added fundraising events to support the annual Blaine Jazz Festival. 

“We felt we had to get a quick start because we knew the Jazz Festival would be coming up quickly. So we started our fundraising [efforts] before we normally do so that we would make it,” PAA executive director Kristi Galbraith said.

She praised the Jazz Festival faculty, who were quick to offer their services to help the festival suceed. Several will be putting on benefit concerts in the coming months to raise support for the program. The Jazz Festival hosts up to 100 students ages 12-19 each year, and accepts vocalists and musicians. It typically costs around $90,000 to run the festival, with a portion of that supplied through the BTAC grant.

“Most of the events are still taking place. It hurts us, but it won’t eliminate the events this year,” said Debbie Harger, community tourism director. “Mostly it eliminates marketing and advertising, but we still have some other funding sources we can draw from.”

The city has re-allocated the $80,000 reserve funds to support the Plover ferry, the Visitors Information Center (VIC) and Blaine’s 4th of July celebration. The city chose these particular programs to support because they are highly visible, and in the case of the Plover and the VIC, are around more than just one day a year.

“We need to maintain some tourism presence,” city manager Gary Tomsic said. “These things are something you can count on, and they are places we can point people to.”