The drive for Dunwoody being home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame hit another roadblock Tuesday night, when the Dunwoody city council rejected an amendment to raise the city’s lodging and hotel tax in order to help pay for the museum.
The council rejected the amendment to the city’s excise tax by a vote of 4-2. The amendment would have raised the city’s hotel and lodging tax from 5 to 6 percent to help pay for the hall of fame. Councilman Danny Ross, who leads the group making the bid for the hall of fame, recused himself from the vote.
The resolution was strongly supported by the Dunwoody Convention and Visitor’s Bureau of Dunwoody (CVBD), as well as local hotels. The CVBD drafted the amendment. The amendment called for the hike to sunset after three years and to only be spent on the hall of fame or its marketing.
“The five hotels are absolutely for this as a business matter,” said Brad Sturgeon, chairman of the CVBD board and general manager of Embassy Suites at Perimeter Center.
Dunwoody is among four cities – the other three being Macon, Athens and Woodstock – vying for the struggling Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon.
Ross’s group, Dunwoody Music Conservancy made the bid for the hall of fame late last year. The hall of fame authority has yet to make a decision on where the hall will go. However, in a survey among the hall of fame’s authority board members . Many on the authority worried about Dunwoody’s plan for funding, which relied solely on private donations. Bids from other cities included some sort of municipal funding.
Ultimately, though the authority members rejected the survey’s recommendation, giving Dunwoody another chance.
With an opportunity to revamp Dunwoody’s bid, Ross brought the hotel tax hike to the city council as a way to guarantee some municipal funding for the hall.
Ross made a presentation to the council Tuesday asking for support of the tax increase, assuring the council that Dunwoody’s hall of fame would be financially viable, and pointing out that Perimeter Mall and the have both already agreed to donate space for the project (the mall would be the initial location for the hall while a new facility would be built on Spruill Gallery property).
“This is an economic development plan,” Ross said. He said the hall would be a large tourist draw for the city and would bring business to the area.
“This is our shot to do it and I’m asking for your support,” Ross said.
His plea was met with several concers about the financial viability of the hall, Dunwoody as a location for it and increasing lodging taxes.
There were also questions about way in which the CVBD supported and wrote the amendment that the council was voting on.
Sturgeon said the CVBD board, a public body, had approved support of the amendemtn over email.
Councilman John Heneghan pointed out that all such board decisions, with the board being a public entity, need be made in public meetings and those meetings need to be advertised.
“The proposal that was brought forward to us today was not done in that manner,” he said. “Therefore, I think it’s an illegal, improper proposal that we need to vote on. I’m not in favor of it.”
Councilman Denis Shortal felt the process was rushed.
“I did not even know this was going to be an agenda item until the second of February,” Shortal said. “Here were are on the 15th, 13 days later, and we’re voting for a tax increase. That amazes me; that just amazes me that timeline. I do not think that is adequate time to vet this issue to the public.”
Shortal said he’d received 87 calls and emails about the issue, with 85 of those calls against the increased excise tax.
Councilman Robert Wittenstein said it the hall of fame in Dunwoody seems like too large a gamble.
“I can imagine this as a gem, as an opportunity to do with music what the Spruill Center has done for art,” Wittenstein said. But, he said it could also be that the hall struggles year to year and could become a perennial issue.
“I’m worried that this thing is anything but a sure bet,” he said. “And I’m a little concerned about our putting the city on the line if its not going to be successful.”
Mayor Ken Wright said while he was skeptical of the endeavor, the hotels were all in support of the measure.
“Ultimately it’s the hoteliers that get affected by this,” he said.
Councilwoman Adrian Bonser and Wright voted for the measure.