Former convention director's fears may materialize as tourism funds are diverted to double REDI's budget

COLUMBIA, 8/31/12 (Beat Byte) -- Though Lorah Steiner retired from City Hall to take a promotion in Florida, if she were in Columbia today she would almost certainly worry about Council Bill B225-12, an audacious attempt to divert dedicated tourism and convention funds to that vague enterprise known as "economic development" that too often turns into "developer development."
As Columbia's long time Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) director, Steiner was known for guarding her political and economic turf, most notably making sure City Hall politicians and senior bureaucrats didn't get their mitts on tax dollars meant solely for convention and tourism promotion. More than once, Steiner openly worried about attempts to divert those funds into other areas.

The airport expansion comes to mind. Many hotel, motel, and tourist-related businesses believe it should be funded by airline and passenger user fees, not convention and tourism taxes.

Now, B225-12, which rewrites an ordinance about dedicated convention and tourism tax receipts to double part of REDI's budget. "$50,000 of the tourism fund would be used to partially fund REDI, replacing $25,000 of General Fund Revenue," a staff report on the ordinance explains.
What REDI -- the Blight Guys -- have to do with tourism may strike many people as a real head scratcher. After all, in their opinion, most of the town is blighted.
Part of City Manager Mike Matthes' budget, the funding boost for REDI -- aka Regional Economic Development, Inc., a business lobby that doubles as a City Hall department -- the CVB-to-REDI ordinance may be the first step toward swiping a multi-million dollar pot of gold out from under the Leprechauns that guard it on behalf of CoMo's tourism industry.
Leprechaun-friendly but politically savvy, Steiner watched those funds like a Tiger watching a Jayhawk. But she's gone and the politicians are marching toward the end of the rainbow.

Next up: Will the Convention and Visitors Bureau find itself funding part or all of the airport expansion, with nothing left for the conventions and attractions that bring fliers into town?