The hope is before Oktoberfest and Fort Hays State University Homecoming on Sept. 28, the City of Hays will purchase and hang new banners promoting the Tiger mascot on light poles along Eighth Street.
That’s one way the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau supports tourism activity with a Transient Guest Tax charged to anyone who rents a hotel room in the city, said Melissa Dixon, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Hays City Commissioners voted recently to increase the tax from 5 percent to 7 percent starting Oct. 1. Guests staying longer than 21 days don’t pay it.
“We do support it,” Dixon said of the increase “It won’t affect the residents of Hays and most visitors won’t even notice. They choose their hotels by the brand they are loyal to, and the price they want to pay.”
Each percent generates a little more than $200,000, according to Assistant City Manager Jacob Wood, speaking at a press briefing at City Hall on Tuesday morning. The city collects about $900,000 from the tax. State law allows the money to be spent for anything related to tourism.
Right now the tax revenue funds the operating budget of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. That includes salaries and marketing efforts, like billboards, printed ads in state tourism guides and hunting guides, online ads and social media ads. Also, the agency helps sponsor local events that bring in tourists, like Wild West Festival and the Ellis County Fair, Dixon said.
But Dixon’s agency won’t get the proceeds from the additional 2 percent. Instead, for the first time, Hays will spend the money to improve a street, specifically by adding roundabouts on north Vine if the final plans are ultimately approved by the Hays City Commission. Previous money has been spent to improve city parks, which visitors use, Wood said.
“Right now that is our heavily trafficked area,” Wood said. “We have several stop signs, but the frontage roads are so close to Vine Street that they create issues. There’s not enough stacking capacity on those side streets. There’s not a real good place to park and pull out, so you have left turns at 37th Street. …Particularly during the summer, and this next weekend it’s going to be terrible with all the students coming back to Fort Hays.”
He said 32nd and 33rd streets are two intersections at Vine with the most crashes. The initial roundabout design calls for an hourglass shape — or double — roundabout at 32nd and 33rd streets. With a second one south of the Interstate at 37th Street and a third at 41st Street.
“If we fix the streets up on north Vine, then people coming in off the Interstate should have an easier time getting around and getting to the places where they can stay all night,” he said.
Design on the $7.5 million project started a couple months ago and is expected to take more than a year. Plans should be completed the Fall of 2019, and bids could be let in Spring 2020, Wood said.
I-70 traffic is a big factor in the city’s visitor population, Dixon said, driven by the central location between Denver and Kansas City. Also, state wrestling and basketball tournaments also fill up the hotels, as well as an annual Special Olympics Kansas tourney.
“I-70 provides some steady bookings for hotels. There are two weekends we almost always sell out, Wild West Festival and Oktoberfest and Fort Hays State University’s Homecoming,” she said.
There are 14 hotel properties in the city limits, totaling 1,037 rooms. The total number shrunk by 191 when the Hays Ambassador Hotel and Conference Center on Vine closed in December 2015. Even worse, the city lost its convention and meeting space, Dixon said, making it impossible to host large groups and conferences.
But the Towneplace Suites by Marriott opened this past Spring.
Hilton Garden Inn is scheduled to open next year, which will add 100 rooms. More importantly however, it will bring 8,000 to 8,500 square feet of meeting space, with movable partitions for multiple break out sessions.
“This will be the space we’ve been waiting for — to host the larger groups,” Dixon said. “That will really change our job, but we welcome it.”
There’s more coming, too. Hays-based HKHR Hospitality announced in January it would build an 81-room La Quinta Inn and Suites.
“I think they see that the hotels here can support more guests,” Dixon said. “I think we can sustain more hotel properties. Because they bring more conventions and groups and those overflow to the other properties.”
At 7 percent, Hays remains below some of the higher Transient Guest Tax rates in the state. Overland Park and Mission each charge 9 percent. Among those that charge 8 percent are Newton, Gardner, Lenexa, Kansas City, Aitchison, Abilene, Dodge City, Pratt, Andover and Derby. Those charging 7 percent include Salina, Emporia, Hutchison, Topeka, Manhattan and Greensburg. Charging 6 percent are Lawrence, Junction City, Great Bend, Wellington, Wichita, Winfield, Haysville, Arkansas City, Garden City, Lindsborg and McPherson.
In the vicinity of Hays on I-70, Russell charges 4 percent, and Ellis and Wakeeney 5 percent.
Some of 2018’s Transient Guest Tax paid for 180 new banners on the 90 light poles that line north Vine Street, Dixon said. The banners advertise specific attractions to Hays, including Historic Fort Hays, FHSU, bison, a Pete Felten sculpture to advertise downtown, a T-Rex to advertise the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, and an image of Leo and Viola Dorzweiler in authentic German dress for the German Capital of Kansas and the Ellis County Historical Society Museum.
The City of Hays Public Works Department on Thursday finished hanging the banners.
The new Fort Hays banners will have two different designs, said Karen Allen, executive assistant to the President at Fort Hays. Dixon’s agency will pay for the banners, which replace older ones taken down this week. The new banners will hang from 16 poles along Eighth Street from Allen to Elm streets, Allen said. Likewise, FHSU plans to hang 150 banners throughout the campus.
“Our goal is to have the campus banners up prior to Homecoming on September 28,” she said.