New funding & marketing director for Cape May tourism

Steve’s breakdown: This account is on track to launch January 1, 2012 and will promote and market the city out of the area. If you’ve never been to Cape May, the featured video will get you up to speed in a few minutes.

CAPE MAY, NJ: Council members received a four-part presentation on the merits of Mayor Ed Mahaney’s proposed Tourism Utility on Tuesday, at the regularly scheduled work session and meeting.

“In order for there to be a healthy discussion of the concept, I suggested that we have presenters,” said Mahaney, who gave the proposal’s overview. Leon Costello, the city’s chief financial officer, explained the accounting of the plan; city solicitor Tony Monzo presented on the legalities of creating the utility; and city manager Bruce Macleod set out the timeline for the mayor’s proposal.

Under Mahaney’s plan, a newly created Tourism Utility will manage and operate the new Convention Hall, direct the city’s recreation and special events programming, and promote and market the city out of the area. Council hopes to have the Tourism Utility established by January 2012.

“We are on track for a Memorial Day 2012 opening for the Convention Hall, and it is imperative that we have this utility in place well before that,” said Mahaney.

To that end, the mayor announced the hiring of Mike Whipple as the city’s Director of Marketing, Communications and Event sales.

“Mike is joining our city at the right time,” said Mahaney. “He is familiar with Cape May and its various attractions, in addition to having a wealth of experience in the hospitality industry.”

Whipple’s hiring was effective Wednesday, Oct. 4. Whipple most recently served as the general manager of The Grand Hotel of Cape May; he previously held management positions in the Sheraton corporation and served as chairman of Maryland’s Tourism Development Board.

“We should have done this six months ago,” said John Cook, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. “Mike has to hit the ground running. I hope he has a bag packed and is ready to get out and bring the events to Cape May.”

The proposed utility would be similar in structure and formation to the city’s existing Water and Sewer Utility and Beach Utility. According to all of the presenters, the utility would not have the authority to levy or add taxes to raise money.

The Water and Sewer Utility is funded by rate payers, while the Beach Utility uses the funds raised by beach tag sales. The Tourism Utility would be funded through user fees.

The mayor said the proposal is crafted to prevent the cost burden of the Convention Hall and its events from falling on “nonparticipating taxpayers through the city’s annual current fund budget and elated capital improvement budget.”

“In essence, the establishment of this new City Tourism Utility would be a further implementation of City Council’s long-range plan to assign expenses of specific programs and services to isolated cost centers that are paired with specified revenue sources and amounts which ensure that the users/participants provide the level of financial support necessary to maintain the solvency of this particular utility,” he said.

It calls for a “steady and gradual increase in the amount and percentage of …expenses to be transferred annually to the Tourism Utility” so that the nascent division could remain solvent in its formative years.

The council will need to approve at least four changes to ordinance to create the utility by Mahaney’s January 2012 deadline, said Monzo.

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