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Community

St. Helena wants Chamber to support more community programs

St. Helena Chamber of Commerce

St. Helena Chamber of Commerce

ST. HELENA — The City Council is ready to renew its annual marketing contract with the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, but first it wants the Chamber to adjust its priorities.

A majority of the council – Mayor Alan Galbraith and Councilmembers Peter White and Paul Dohring – voted Tuesday to approve the full contract amount of $210,000. City staff will negotiate an amended contract that spends a little less on destination marketing and a little more on community programs.

The Chamber had proposed spending $10,000 out of the $210,000 on Chamber staff time to support events like Earth Day, Fourth of July fireworks, and the Harvest Festival.

Councilmembers Mary Koberstein and Geoff Ellsworth were not in favor of renewing the full amount of the contract, and Dohring said he would only vote for it if the Chamber shifts some money – he suggested $30,000 — from marketing to the community.

The Chamber “wears many hats,” he said, and sometimes its political advocacy on behalf of certain issues gets intertwined with its role as a vendor performing destination marketing for the city.

“There have been a number of projects … where the Chamber has taken sort of a take-no-prisoners advocacy stance,” Dohring said. “I think it has led to a little bit of consternation in the community. It’s there. We have to grapple with it. Residents aren’t happy with the Chamber in many regards.”

There needs to be a “culture shift” in which the Chamber’s values become more aligned with residents’ values, but in the meantime St. Helena needs to keep the Welcome Center open and conduct some basic marketing, he said.

Last week, when it was unclear whether the council was going to renew the contract, Chamber officials said that if the contract were eliminated they would continue their destination marketing but close the Welcome Center and cut their involvement in community events like Earth Day, the Harvest Festival and Fourth of July fireworks.

More than half of the city’s revenue comes from local businesses and hotels, “and shutting off our investment in them is imprudent,” said White.

Businesses that saw fewer customers when Caltrans was doing road work south of town would have suffered even more if it hadn’t been for the Chamber’s marketing efforts, White said. More promotion will be needed in the next two years as Caltrans plans to resurface Highway 29 from north Napa to Mee Lane, which could result again in fewer visitors making their way to St. Helena, said White, who chairs the Napa Valley Transportation Authority.

Councilmember Koberstein said she’s “not anti-Chamber or anti-business,” but she wants the city to spend some of that money on its own economic development efforts, with the goal of filling empty storefronts.

White said he’d like the city to work on that too, but there’s no money in the budget for it.

Councilmember Ellsworth said there needs to be more discussion of the impacts of tourism on the community. He also said he was concerned that the Chamber might be helping generate revenue for the county by promoting member businesses that are outside the city limits.

He and Koberstein were in favor of tabling the matter until the city and the Chamber could come back with an amended contract, possibly for less than $210,000.

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