J. Rick Normand: Sedona Mayor on Tourism Ad Dollars Unnecessary – Part Two

J. Rick Normand: Sedona Mayor on Tourism Ad Dollars Unnecessary – Part Two

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J. Rick Normand, examines City of Sedona contract with the Sedona Chamber of Commerce in the second of his two-part Op-Ed series.

Sedona AZ (August 10, 2018) – Thanks to the decade long influence peddling to the last several Sedona City Councils by the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and the Sedona Lodging Council, the effective design and implementation of a successful and sustainable resort town development plan has been stifled. However, Sedona can still manage a highly desirable quality of life standard for its fulltime and faithful residents through implementation of the following formula:

1a.] All successful civic planning that has tourism as a primary economic driver starts with the targeting of high end shoppers and high net worth destination travelers, not to mention high end project investors and ultra wealthy resident benefactors who will contribute heavily to civic programs to take care of its needy and the arts. Never market to the low end travelers who haven’t the means to finance upscale City development plans through their local purchases and resulting bed and sales tax contribution to City coffers.

Think about this: The City of Palm Desert negotiated with Marriott to build their highest quality Resort, pictured below, on an unexciting piece of featureless raw desert. Nevertheless, it was designed to attract extraordinarily high net worth and longer stay travelers. Meanwhile, Sedona negotiated with Marriott to build Marriott’s low end Courtyard brand hotel (its really an upscale motel) on a prime piece of real estate with a view only God could create in a moment of ecstasy. This is the difference between the two resort towns.

J. W. Marriot Desert Springs Resort, Palm Desert CA – Elevated Viewing Area Over Foyer

J.W. Marriot Desert Springs Resort, Palm Desert CA – Foyer at Main Entrance

1b.] Consistently merchandising a resort town to high end travelers/visitors results in the attraction of high end retailers such as Palm Desert has done. To wit, the City of Palm Desert has been able to attract high end retailers such as Gucci, Armani’s, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Prada, Coach, Saks 5th Avenue, Burberry, Williams-Sonoma, Banana Republic and Apple, as well as ninety five more “Rodeo Drive” retailers. Not one of these is willing to open in Sedona, even if we had the necessary store facilities with high end tenant improvements like our own Schraeder-Martinez designs and builds around the country. Why is this? It’s due to the fact that our Chamber markets to Destination Travelers who can’t afford to shop in those stores.

Palm Desert California El Paseo Shopping District aka The Rodeo Drive of the Desert - Gucci

Palm Desert, California El Paseo Shopping District

Palm Desert’s El Paseo Shopping District aka The Rodeo Drive of the Desert - Coach

Another view of Palm Desert’s El Paseo Shopping District a.k.a the Rodeo Drive of the Desert.

2.] High end retailers attract high end investors (hedge funds, venture funds, institutional investment funds, etc) to finance high end retail projects such as Palm Desert’s El Paseo Shopping District.

Palm Desert’s Rodeo Drive of the Desert aka El Paseo Shopping District - Ralph Lauren

Another view of Palm Desert’s Rodeo Drive of the Desert a.k.a. El Paseo Shopping District

Night shopping in Palm Desert CA

3.] High end investors attract high end project developers, high end hoteliers and high end residential citizens and philanthropists who spend money on high class altruistic civic projects.

Another view of night shopping opportunities in Palm Desert’s El Paseo Shopping District – Sedona AZ doesn’t even offer night shopping.

4.] Once the four factors above are in place, then those factors attract a higher quality City staff with higher qualifications whom have greater vision and budget management capabilities…usually due to their prior experience in these types of environments.

5.] And, then, all the above starts the cycle over again and again which results in the civic success of places like the city of Palm Desert!

Sedona has been a dismal and perpetual failure at learning and employing the above mentioned formula. Why? Sedona Government enablers, who have been induced or willing to subject themselves to Chamber and Lodging Council influence peddling don’t have backgrounds with demonstrable experience and a track record for success in those disciplines! Then, too, they need the moral character to resist the relentless influence-peddling of the Chamber of Commerce and the Sedona Lodging Council. Neither of these professional requirements have ever been the case in the last decade of Sedona government with the exceptions of John Bradshaw, Cliff Hamilton, Mark DiNunzio, Pud Colquitt, John Martinez, Mike Ward, and current Councilor John Currivan.

Sedona traffic is moved by the same amount of highway as Palm Desert but an ADOT study found 50% of the traffic merely drive-through causing traffic backups and reduced quality of life for residents. The Mayor and City Council incumbents want to move these cars through Sedona neighborhoods in order to alleviate traffic on main roads rather than discontinue Chamber of Commerce funding that attracts these daytrippers. The mayor and incumbent city council give the Chamber millions of tax dollars for destination advertising and marketing. A hotly contested August 28 election is asking voters to approve the current business model with a Yes on Home Rule vote and re-election of incumbents and mayor, or signal a stop and re-evaluate Chamber funding with a No vote and election of new mayor and new city councilors. Early ballots have been mailed.

I’ve never observed any such other City Councilors and Mayors in the last decade who could even remotely understand the above recited formula which is prevalent across our country in successful resort town developments. Not only that, but it has been in the best interests and the prime motive of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and the Sedona Lodging Council to deny the implementation of the traditional resort town development plans in order to enhance the pure profit motives of some of their more powerful members. Thank them for nothing because you, the full time residents in Sedona, owe them absolutely nothing!

Meanwhile, the city of Palm Desert in California has had the precise opposite long-term development story than that of the city of Sedona.

In fact, in an article published in Sedona’s Red Rock News by Christopher Fox Graham on July 27, 2018 entitled “Pickels: Legislator’s ‘grossly deficient’ SB1487 complaint against Sedona is missing 5 key pages,” Graham wrote this: “In conclusion, Pickels wrote, “The city is fortunate to have a local, accredited destination marketing organization which understands the dynamics involved with Sedona’s tourism industry.” Really?

I don’t think that’s what we have in Sedona!

Accreditation does not equate to top ranked performance status. And, if the Chamber understood the dynamics involved with Sedona’s Tourism Industry, then we wouldn’t have the street traffic and hiking trail head trash and parking problems that are stifling our quality of life in Sedona today.

As I mentioned before, Roger Brooks International, the world’s premier resort town and DMO consulting specialist in community branding, product development and marketing in the U.S., with 1,500 municipal clients, has just relocated its headquarters to Peoria, Arizona.

Sedona is fortunate to have this firm just 110 miles down AZ I-17 unlike its other 1,500 resort town clients. Is City Attorney Pickels even aware of this fact? Why doesn’t the City of Sedona talk to any other recognized experts in the field of Destination Traveler marketing?

Meanwhile, I’ve checked with the major Destination Traveler Industry ranking services known as Destination Market International, BrandsUSA, TripSavvy, The National Tour Association, and the Destination Marketing Organization International. They all rank DMO’s (Destination Marketing Organizations) and CVB’s (Convention Bureaus) up through the top 100 with some of them. Most of them rank the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp as the best in the United States last year.

Not so strangely, though, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce is not ranked by any of these rating services. Yet we keep hearing Council and Staff publicly distributed superlatives about our Chamber as a great DMO to support arguments as to why our Chamber shouldn’t be required to submit itself to competitive bidding through an RFP process.

This just doesn’t add up.

The industry doesn’t even recognize our Chamber. And, by the way, almost all the ranked DMO’s and CVB’s are managed and staffed by their own city governments whom they represent. Why isn’t our City Staff capable of doing what far lesser destination traveler resort towns accomplish with fewer employees relative to our City’s size?

So let’s find out why Sedona hasn’t performed as well as, let’s say, the hugely successful resort town of the city of Palm Desert, California when Sedona had so many more advantages over Palm Desert when it started marketing itself to Destination Travelers.

In early 1943, the U.S. was deep into fighting World War II. But we were in defensive fighting mode rather than offensive. The then-Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George C. Marshall (after whom the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was named) recalled General George Patton to Washington to give him instructions for the initial U.S. offensive ground thrust against Germany. General Patton was told that the U.S. would launch it first ground assault against the Germans in North Africa and instructed to go out to the American West and find the most inhospitable or, colloquially speaking, the most “God-Forsaken” place in the country to train our invasion troops. In other words, Patton was to establish the “certifiable” most God-Forsaken place in the western United States.

Meanwhile, at that time, a little town sat in the Red Rocks Country of the Verde Valley known as Sedona. In fact, Sedona may have been “certifiably” the most beautiful place in the country. It still should have the same moniker today! So, what does the certifiably most God-Forsaken place in the country have to do with our likely most certifiably beautiful place in the country that we call Sedona?

Well, the certifiably most God-Forsaken place of 1943 is now one of the most physically gorgeous, economically successful, and efficiently governed and managed resort towns in the United States – which is embarrassingly outperforming Sedona in every possible travel destination metric…except to the extent that Sedona still has all the natural beauty and they have little. I’m talking about the city of Palm Desert, California.

What Palm Desert has done, starting with nothing, compared to what we have done with our visually blessed city of Sedona to whom the supreme Deity gave everything, is to compare supremely visionary government to abysmal governmental planning and misdirection, and an utter lack of ability to attract visionary talent to its service!

When a City can’t attract top highly paid talent to its employment rolls, as the city of Palm Desert has done, the result will always be the hiring of far more staff than should be necessary as Sedona has done, coupled with the hiring of a professional tourism marketing organization or consultant who will have to work without the needed visionary leadership of the City that hired them.

So, now then, let’s look at the ultra-successful tourism economic driver of the city of Palm Desert to find out if there’s anything we can learn from them.

The City of Palm Desert, California

The City of Palm Desert, CA Story

Number of City Employees, 112 (Compared to Sedona’s 142 and soon to be 144)

Permanent Residents: 50,417 (Five times the size of Sedona)

Seasonal Residents: 30,000 (Sedona has a much smaller amount, but hasn’t figured out how to determine this figure)

Housing Units: 34,329 (about seven times bigger than Sedona)

The city of Palm Desert holds approximately $70 million in reserve. The expenditure budget for all funds for fiscal year 2017-2018 is $118,624,985. This amount represents an increase of approximately 13% from the original “fiscal year 2016-2017 all funds budget,” most of which is attributable to capital projects.

The problem for Sedona is that its impending fate can’t be prevented by adopting a development plan such as the city of Palm Desert has because it’s already way too late to redesign the City, and the city has already used up all its excess borrowing capacity to fund the types of projects outlined above and below. But, here’s the best plan that is still achievable to significantly stop our economic, reputational and quality of life tailspin, and partially revive our viability in all these just mentioned respects:

This Sedona Arizona City Council has raised taxes every year and has approved new annual rate increases through 2020.

1. Terminate, or legally have set aside, the DMO services contract with the Chamber as Sedona Destination Traveler Organization (DMO).

2. Take the DMO Services in-house like the City of Palm Desert and hire Roger Brooks International as a DMO consultant to the City.

3. Employ the City’s powers of Annexation and Condemnation to get rid of blight like the north side of 89A from Safeway to Andante (or even further west) and redevelop those areas into ‘high end retailer” dominated tourist meccas. Include the Cultural Park in this plan. Eye sores kill high net worth traveler tourism. Apparently the City and Chamber have never figured this out. And, btw, bury those hideous overhead wires along the south side of AZ 89A in West Sedona.

4. Market Sedona only to high net worth/big spender tourists who will stay here several days in succession. The result will be more sales taxes and bed taxes, but far less traffic in town.

5. Annex and develop the gorgeous four hundred, or so, acres the City owns on the south side of 89A west of the City Limits, where the sprinklers now are, plus the Cultural Park into a high tech development company incubator campus, and become a landlord for these young maturing high-tech development product companies. Continue to develop that reputation as a haven for clean, nonpolluting high tech product development companies and give them incentives to move to Sedona.

6. Develop two story parking structures Uptown and get rid of angled-in parking. Add new driving lanes. Add high tech traffic management systems and provide visitor assistance hand-held device apps for tourists.

7. Issue building permits only for extreme luxury hotels….no mid-range hotels like Marriott Courtyard.

8. In prime areas un-incentivize trinket shops.

9. Annex north of Uptown and South of City Limits on AZ-179 and west of Sedona Pines.

10. Seriously cut city staff positions and recruit personnel with far better resumes and give them free housing in a special condo project in that 400 acres the City owns south west of the Water Treatment Plant.

11. Sell private sponsorships of head-in parking spaces in new parking structures owned by the City. Imagine, you pull into a parking space and you’re greeted by a sign that says…You are welcomed to Sedona by the Cowboy Club, or whatever business may sponsor that space who will be required to pay a fee to the City for the advert.

And, most important of all:

12. Find and joint venture with already proven private partners/investors who have been developers in highly successful resort towns.

Think of this as you vote on August 28 and November 6: Traffic and the ADOT Five-Year Projection of the doubling of traffic in Sedona. Sedona’s and the Village of Oak Creek’s current daily traffic, added together, exceeds that of AZ I-17 between Camp Verde and Exit 298.

Voters will have two decisions on the August 28 ballot: One will be to vote to approve or not to approve the city-endorsed Home Rule and your other vote will be for 5 seats for city council members, including the Mayor.

The City Council voted (except for Councilman Currivan) to suppress a public vote on Permanent Base Adjustment. The Council did not want you voters to know about it. But, they failed and the PBA will be on the ballot on November 6.

This is not how elected officials should conduct themselves; they are running this City like they own it.

They don’t even understand the City they govern!

To repeat: A Permanent Base Adjustment ballot initiative, sponsored by Arizona Liberty though a citizens’ initiative, has been reviewed by the Arizona State Auditor General’s office and the Permanent Base Adjustment ballot initiative will be on the November 6 ballot this year.

Voter passage of Home Rule (yes vote) allows the city to spend $49.5 million or more in fiscal Year 2019-20 which is $10 million more than estimated actual expenditures of $39.7 million in fiscal Year 2017-18. If Home Rule fails (no vote), City spending will be capped at $24 million.

Voter passage of Permanent Base Adjustment caps spending at $36 million in fiscal Year 2019-20 which is in-line with recent years’ actual annual expenditures. A Permanent Base Adjustment will allow the City’s spending to increase over the next four fiscal years by changes in population and the cost of living.

Both Home Rule and Permanent Base Adjustment require voter approval this year. Past Councils could have put a Permanent Base Adjustment on the ballot, but chose NOT to for 22 years thereby creating a possible “Armageddon scenario” if Home Rule fails this year. Passage by the voters of a Permanent Base Adjustment (PBA) is an “insurance policy” or “backstop” for the City should Home Rule pass or fail.

Home Rule and Permanent Base Adjustment are separate, NOT competing votes.

Your vote matters – how your city is operated and how our money is spent – is in your hands. If you care about Sedona, it is imperative you get educated and vote. Doing nothing ensures more of the last four years and worse!

We’re about to lose our beloved City’s quality-of-life standards by forfeit to the lodging industry’s unrelenting drive for greater commercial profits at our citizens’ expense. Subject to the outcome of this upcoming election of Council incumbent candidates plus the approval of a ballot item colloquially referred to as “Home Rule” which is being pushed by the City itself to give itself unbridled budgetary powers, the full time residents of Sedona could lose their last hope of restoration of our once happy lifestyles here.

If we don’t deny to a new Council the power of the (mislabeled) Alternative Expenditure Limitation, otherwise known as “Home Rule” then we will never again find the past reality of a standard of living that induced most of us to move here in the first place.

On August 19, 2014 this writer wrote an article at www.SedonaEye.com entitled “Separating Wheat From Chaff In This Election Campaign” in which I speculated on almost the same issues today, except for the consequences of voting in the current Council. Well, now, we can see the consequences; namely, utterly stifling and soon-to-be doubled traffic congestion (ADOT 5 yr traffic forecast for Sedona), diminishing air quality, an increasing per-capita debt load that is quickly becoming a budgetary crisis even before an inevitable economic downturn, proposed rerouting of choke-point relief streets through quiet neighborhoods, poorly maintained high-traffic streets like Rodeo and Mule Deer Road that now look like hell, and, increasingly out-of-control City staff growth earning astounding high five and six figure salaries in this little town.

Recently City Manager Justin Clifton has been making his rounds on the public speaking circuit in Sedona pushing the City’s version of the alleged budgetary risks of voter denial of Home Rule – or its hybrid known as the Permanent Base Adjustment – which is an ongoing violation of ARS 9-500.14 on his part. The City Manager has a gift for gab, but that does NOT excuse pushing the envelope of the law. He’s pushing a political point of view which is not his job. Why can’t any City Councilors speak for the City’s position other than use their hired gun to do it? Better yet, why doesn’t the City Manager and his Council string pullers ever bring up the point that Sedona’s City management over the last ten years had been grossly inferior to that of cities like Palm Desert, California which was blessed with no natural wonders such as the Supreme Deity granted to Sedona?

VOTE “NO” ON HOME RULE on August 28, then VOTE “YES” ON PERMANENT BASE ADJUSTMENT on November 6. Take the purse strings back from the City government and give it to the people again!

The problem for Sedona is that its impending fate can’t be prevented by adopting a development plan such as the city of Palm Desert has because it’s already way to late to redesign the city of Sedona and Sedona has already used up all its excess borrowing capacity to fund the project outlined above and below. But, here’s the best plan that is still achievable to significantly stop our economic, our reputation and quality of life tailspin, and partially revive our viability in all these just mentioned respects:

1. Terminate or legally have set aside the DMO services contract with the Chamber as Sedona Destination Traveler Organization (DMO).

2. Take the DMO Services in-house like the City of Palm Desert and hire Roger Brooks International as a DMO consultant to the City.

3. Employ the City’s powers of Annexation and Condemnation to get rid of blight like the north side of 89A from Safeway to Andante (or even further west) and redevelop those areas into ‘high-end retailer” dominated tourist meccas. Include the Cultural Park in this plan. Eye sores kill high net worth traveler tourism. Apparently the City and Chamber have never figured this out. And, btw, bury those hideous overhead wires along the south side of 89A in West Sedona.

4. Market Sedona only to high net worth/big spender tourists who will stay here several days in succession. The result will be more sales taxes and bed taxes, but far less traffic in town.

5. Annex and develop the gorgeous four-hundred, or so, acres the City owns on the south side of 89A west of the City Limits, where the sprinklers now are, plus the Cultural Park into a high-tech development company incubator campus and become a landlord for these young maturing high-tech development product companies. Continue to develop that reputation as a haven for clean, non-polluting high-tech product development companies and give them incentives to move to Sedona.

6. Develop two-story parking structures Uptown and get rid of angle-in parking. Add new driving lanes. Add high-tech traffic management systems and provide visitor assistance hand-held device apps to tourists.

7. Issue building permits only for extreme luxury hotels….no mid-range hotels like Marriott Courtyard.

8. Disincentivize trinket shops in prime areas.

9. Annex north of Uptown and South of City Limits on AZ-179.

10. Seriously cut city staff positions and recruit personnel with far better resumes while giving them free housing in a special condo project in that 400 acres the City owns south west of the Water Treatment Plant.

11. Sell sponsorships of head-in parking spaces in new parking structures owned by the City. Imagine, you pull into a parking space and you’re greeted by a sign that says…You are welcomed to Sedona by the Cowboy Club, or whatever business sponsors that space who has to pay a fee to the City for the advert.

And, most important of all:

12. Find a joint venture with already proven private partners/investors who have been developers in highly successful resort towns.

Roger Brooks says…

“The only challenge of a Chamber of Commerce acting as a DMO is the core fact that chambers tend to market only Chamber members. Otherwise, why join? When using lodging taxes and other public funds, the Chamber must market everyone whether or not they are a Chamber member. As long as that clear division is in place, there have been few challenges to Chambers acting as the local DMO.”

Until now, that is!

VOTE FOR TONY TONSICH, SAM TARDIO, NOELLE JULIAN and MIKE WARD.

VOTE “NO” ON HOME RULE ON AUGUST 28, then vote “yes” on Permanent Base Adjustment on November 6.

Read www.SedonaEye.com for daily news and interactive views!