Wonders of Wildlife Board Chairman Rob Keck presents a check for the most recent hotel-motel tax payment, totaling $32,506, to Mayor Jim O'Neal.
SBJ photo by GEOFF PICKLE
WOW discontinues hotel-motel tax collections
The Wonders of Wildlife Board of Directors yesterday announced it would be discontinuing collection of revenue from the 1-cent hotel-motel tax and returned the most recent check to the city. Johnny Morris and Bass Pro Shops also made a significant donation to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
At a news conference held yesterday morning at CFO, WOW Board Chairman Rob Keck presented CFO President Brian Fogle a $1.3 million check, with the promise of an additional $2.7 million during the next five years. He also presented the most recent hotel-motel tax payment, totaling $32,506, to Mayor Jim O'Neal.
The donations from Morris and Bass Pro are symbolic in nature, as the $1.3 million donation equals funding collected from the hotel-motel tax since the museum closed for expansion in December 2007, while the $2.7 million pledge equates to collections from the tax since it was passed by voters in 1998.
“It is our hope that this money can be used to support a number of important community causes - especially those relating to conservation, natural resources, and promoting tourism in the Springfield area,” Keck said.
Bass Pro founder Morris, who spoke via phone at the news conference, praised the efforts of the WOW board.
"Personally, I am very grateful to our museum Board Chairman Rob Keck and all of the museum board members. Collectively, they represent the Who’s Who of great conservation leaders and heroes in America," Morris said. "We want the new museum, aquarium and education center to be a very positive, long-lasting benefit to our community and to the future of conservation in Missouri and (the nation)."
Keck said the museum's Conservation Education Center is scheduled for a grand opening in January, with additional amenities to be phased in throughout 2012. The WOW board is looking at early 2013 for full completion of the $80 million, roughly 340,000-square-foot expansion and renovation project. The expansion will be completed with private donations and district revenues generated by sales at Bass Pro, he said.
The museum board's decision to opt out of receiving hotel-motel sales tax revenue means the city has about $330,000 available annually for other eligible uses. Springfield Councilman John Rush, who acts as liaison between WOW and the city, said it falls to City Council to determine how best to allocate the funding per the 1998 ballot language. He said he expects council to field questions at its last meeting of the year on Dec. 21, but he added that council likely won't make any decisions until next year.
"The ability to reallocate future hotel-motel tax revenues will make our community even stronger," O'Neal said.
Fogle said the funding donated to CFO would be used to develop grants for nonprofit environmental and tourism agencies in the Springfield area.
“This gift offers incredible potential to maintain and enhance Springfield’s natural assets, as well as the economic benefits of our tourism economy, for many generations to come,” he said.