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Virginia Politics
Posted at 06:11 PM ET, 10/25/2011

Fairfax tests hoteliers’ support for higher tax to fund conference center

Fairfax County tourism officials plan to survey the hospitality industry to see whether there would be support for hiking the tax on hotel and motel guests to help pay for a future conference center, the county executive said Tuesday.

Anthony H. Griffin notified the Board of Supervisors’ legislative committee on Tuesday that Visit Fairfax, a nonprofit marketing organization, is testing the hotel industry’s interest in raising the lodging tax to build a conference center that could, in turn, boost tourism.

“We don’t do it unless we know we have the hotel industry on board,” Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D) said afterward.

If the industry agrees to tax itself further, the board would then consider including the proposal in its legislative wish list for the Virginia General Assembly’s 2012 session in January. Because of the commonwealth’s adherence to the Dillon Rule of state governance, the legislature would first have to grant the county’s Board of Supervisors authority to increase its hotel occupancy tax, which is currently at 4 percent. The additional 2 percent hike could raise as much as $9 million a year, county officials said.

“The reason we’re asking for it is to utilize that money for the construction bonds required for a conference center,” said Barry H. Biggar, Visit Fairfax’s president and chief executive officer. He said Visit Fairfax intends to hold presentations for the industry around the county next month to assess its interest and raise support for the project.

Backers say the conference center would probably not be big enough to compete with the District’s convention center but could draw big-ticket events that would bolster the county’s image and revenues. Though no location has been set, county officials say the most likely place would be Tysons Corner because of its proximity to malls, corporate headquarters and future Metro service. Biggar, emphasizing that many variables are still in play, estimated that a conference center could cost anywhere from $55 million to $90 million.

Fairfax County has toyed with building a conference center for years. Bulova listed it as a priority in her state-of-the-county address this year. But funding, especially in the aftermath of a punishing recession and budget gaps, has so far been elusive.

The General Assembly has previously granted the county authority to impose a transit occupancy tax that now stands at 4 percent. Two percent of the tax’s proceeds are dedicated solely to tourism, with Visit Fairfax receiving 0.5 percent and the Fairfax County Economic Development taking 1.5 percent, county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said. The other half of the revenues is unrestricted, she said.

County officials plan to post a draft of the legislative package later this week, and a public hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Nov. 1. The Board plans to adopt its final legislative package Dec. 6.

By  |  06:11 PM ET, 10/25/2011

 
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