9/21/2021 meetings summary: tourism and events, American Rescue Plan Act funds

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We had a work session and regular City Council meeting last Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Below is a summary.
  1. At our work session, we received an update on the status of tourism, hospitality tax and hotels. Raleigh has seen an uptick in visitors and hospitality spending recently, but the activity has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Domestic leisure travel has mostly recovered this year but business travel isn’t expected to recover substantially until next year. Nonstop flights are rebounding slowly; there were 57 nonstop flights from RDU pre-pandemic, 23 during the pandemic, and 43 nonstop flights presently offered. Food and beverage tax revenue is rebounding quicker than occupancy tax revenue; that said, events continue to return, and the city is projected to have a shortage of hotel rooms in the near future. Two new hotels opened during the pandemic, with 5 planned. Overall, there is a sense of optimism as Raleigh continues to be a place many folks want to live, work, and play.
  2. We allocated $25.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as follows: $10M – affordable housing, $10M – health initiatives, $5M – small biz assistance, $0.5M – public outdoor seating. $44.1 million remains to be allocated, and we want your help deciding how to allocate the remaining funds. You can share your opinion using this interactive tool.  Additionally, with ARPA funds, the city purchased a hotel to provide permanent supportive housing and emergency shelter. City Council identified the purchase of a hotel as a priority during our retreat this past March.
  3. We authorized staff to purchased a used, mobile LED screen as recommended by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance Public Realm Study. The large screen will be mounted to a trailer and can be moved throughout the city; the cost will not exceed $75,000 and the funds were allocated from general reserves. The intent of the screen is to display special events, like sporting events and movies, to encourage safe gatherings and tourism. The mobile screen provides flexibility in where events will be held. We also authorized staff to explore a long-term strategy of identifying a location for a permanent, affixed LED screen downtown.
  4. We extended our Small Business Parking Relief program through the end of the year. Last year, City Council directed staff to create the program, which provides free parking passes to downtown restaurant and business workers. We’ve extended the program to allow more time for businesses to recover from the pandemic.
  5. We authorized staff to amend policies for events that take place in the public right-of-way, as well as City Plaza, Market and Exchange Plaza, Nash Square, Union Station Plaza, and GoRaleigh Plaza and to establish 3 tiers of events. The goal is to make it easier to host events in the city, by reducing the cost and planning time required for smaller events. As a former nonprofit leader, I saw firsthand how difficult it was to host a public event without significant resources. Hopefully these changes will encourage more diverse, inclusive and frequent gatherings and events, which help keep Raleigh vibrant.
Our next regular City Council meetings are next Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.


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