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Art or cheaper hotels?

Newport councilmen Henn and Selich differ on the best way to spend proposed donation of $150,000.

January 30, 2014|By Emily Foxhall

Just as understanding art falls to a matter of perspective, so too does deciding how to fund it.

Two Newport Beach council members disagree about whether to spend a possible $150,000 annual allocation on the arts – as the giver intended – or on reducing the cost of hotel stays for some visitors.

Visit Newport Beach, a group that works to draw large bookings to the city's hotels, originally offered up the sum as a donation intended to promote arts and culture in the city.

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The money would come from assessments charged to patrons at member hotels in the Newport Beach Tourism Business Improvement District, or TBID, whose budget Visit Newport Beach oversees.

The proposed donation came as part of a pitch for city renewal of the TBID for 10 years, plus a requested approval of the addition of the Island Hotel to its membership and the increase of its assessments from 2% to 3%.

As such there would be extra money to spend.

Council members seemed all for the idea of directing the $150,000 to arts during an initial November study session, especially Councilman Mike Henn.

"It's an investment in the city," Henn said at the time, saying that the money ought to be used for arts programming rather than for art acquisitions. "By providing the fulsome mechanism to improve the arts and cultural programming and facilities in our city, we enrich the city of Newport Beach."

Then came the skeptic, seated a few chairs to his right: Councilman Ed Selich.

First, Selich questioned the funding source.

"Why do we have to have a TBID?" he asked.

In theory, member hotels could join together independent of the city to collect the assessment, he said.

But the tides did not turn his way.

Most council members seemed poised to renew the TBID as requested.

The majority also didn't seem opposed to extending the Transient Occupancy Tax agreement with Visit Newport Beach, which sends 18% of the bed tax from the city to Visit Newport Beach.

So Selich picked a new battle: the $150,000.

"Well, just seeing where this is heading, the negotiator in me always comes out in the end," Selich said to laughter.

"Admit you're wrong," said Councilman Rush Hill, who has since become mayor.

"In regard to the $150,000, I'd just say this: The first offer isn't always the best offer," Selich said. "And given where this is headed, I think we ought to look at sweetening that pot a little bit."

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An option involving hotels

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