Hospitality trolley renewed with business funds

by Edward Gately – Sept. 13, 2012 03:09 PM
The Republic |

The Scottsdale City Council on Tuesday voted to renew the Hospitality Route trolley services for another peak visitor season, but only if the private sector pays its share of the cost.

With a 5-2 vote, the council authorized staff to renew the service beginning Dec. 28 and ending March 31, at an estimated cost of $170,000, with a maximum contribution of $110,000 by the city from hotel bed-tax funds carried over from 2011-12. Councilmen Bob Littlefield and Ron McCullagh voted no.

The council did specify that the renewal wouldn’t be executed until sponsorships from local businesses totaled at least $60,000 to cover the remaining cost.

The Hospitality Route, a public-private partnership, debuted in 2011 to link visitors staying at the city’s major resorts and hotels with downtown events, entertainment venues, shopping and restaurants. In 2012, the second year in operation, the route again provided service to event centers such as the Barrett-Jackson Museum, Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, WestWorld and the Tournament Players Club Golf Course.

Madeline Clemann, the city’s transit supervisor, said overall ridership increased about 20 percent from 2011.

Previously, the council directed staff to obtain up to half the project funding from bed-tax revenues and at least half from sponsorships in the form of vehicle advertising. Cost savings were achieved by eliminating the WestWorld loop and instead using a shuttle to transport patrons from the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess to events at WestWorld. Daily service also ended two hours earlier than it did in the previous year.

For fiscal 2011 and 2012, the cost for the Hospitality Route was $168,000 and $163,000 respectively, while the estimated cost for 2013 is expected to remain under $170,000,Clemann said.

Advertising space has been limited since the program switched from buses to trolleys in the second year, she said. Trolleys again will be used in the third year, she said.

So far, the city has received about $53,000 in sponsorship pledges from hotels, Clemann said. Changes in the route will be made based on the sponsors, she said.

McCullagh said the city is committing $110,000 while there is no firm commitment from private partners to cover their share of the cost.

The tourism industry “loves” the trolley service, said Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, a partner in the project. Meeting planners always rank Scottsdale as weak in the area of transportation, so the trolley provides an “affordable and fun” experience to visitors, she said.

McCullagh, however, said private sponsors appear to not see the value in the service because they are not willing to go 50-50 on funding anymore.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robbins said he shares concerns about the “dwindling” private contribution, from $103,000 to $83,000 and now $53,000.

“If the hospitality community really loves this, they need to put their money where their mouth is,” said Councilwoman Linda Milhaven. “If they don’t see the value in investing in it, then I don’t see it either.”

Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky said it’s tough to ask for contributions when businesses don’t know if they will be on the route. She made the motion to renew the service.

“The benefactors are the visitors and citizens of Scottsdale,” she said. “We all know there is no viable transportation. It’s $50 for a cab ride to the Tournament Players Club Golf Course.”

Littlefield asked the council to table the issue until more information is known about the route and private funding. McCullagh was the only council member to support his motion.

Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp said the private sector has contributed more than 50 percent of the cost in the last two years and that will likely be the case in the coming year.

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