Hilliard City Council is close to shifting revenue collected in hotel/motel excise taxes from the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau to a new organization -- Destination Hilliard.

Hilliard City Council is close to shifting revenue collected in hotel/motel excise taxes from the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau to a new organization -- Destination Hilliard.

Council President Brett Sciotto gave a 30-minute presentation during council's Dec. 21 meeting that had two premises: "The existing CVB isn't adequately serving the Hilliard community," and Destination Hilliard "will better meet the needs of Hilliard."

"You can refine an organization, you can reform an organization or you can go to the revolution step," Sciotto said. "Now we're at the revolution step."

Sciotto said the question before council was: "Should we continue to send money into an organization that has failed to evolve, or should we send it into the next logical step, which is an organization that is more comprehensive, that brings in more voices, that will serve a broader purpose and that will better use the money?"

The current CVB was formed in 1990, Sciotto said, and has "underserved our community for quite some time." He said in 2000, the CVB was asked by council to "actively market Hilliard," but has since felt "our city is not adequately promoted."

He said the bureau "generally only met once or twice a year" and considers itself as primarily a "grant-making body." However, the CVB routinely rejected giving funds to other organizations or projects such as the First Responders Park. In addition, the Hilliard bureau joined the Ohio Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus only last year, Sciotto said.

Council began taking a closer look at the CVB in 2008, and asked officials there to attend a budget hearing last December. They did not attend, but sent a letter outlining their finances. "It confirmed what we had believed: they weren't spending their money the way we had hoped, but were saving their money for a building," Sciotto said.

Sciotto and council member Kelly McGivern then met with CVB members. "They did not view themselves as an organization capable of, or interested in, helping to identify a signature event (for Hilliard) or facilitating that," Sciotto said.

"They do, in their defense, put out a number of brochures that are distributed throughout the community, and I don't take that away from them," he said. "But in terms of enhancing these programs and accomplishing the initiatives of council we've outlined since 2000, they just didn't feel like they were in a position to do that."

Sciotto and McGivern developed Destination Hilliard, which first met last March and put together a strategic plan in October. According to its mission statement, "Destination Hilliard will engage our citizens and highlight Hilliard's talent, heritage and spirit by inspiring collaboration, sharing resources and facilitating quality events that enhance our community."

Destination Hilliard consists of 19 organizations, including the Northwest Franklin County Historical Society, Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, Franklin County Fair Board, Hilliard Arts Council, Hilliard Area YMCA, Hilliard Youth and Family Commission and even the Hilliard Convention & Visitors Bureau. It has a 21-person steering committee and is expected to have a seven-member board of trustees.

"We have an opportunity for advancing in the area of promoting tourism, arts and culture, and positioning our city to be an attraction," Sciotto said. "It has been the vision of this council for over a decade to do that."

The proposed amendment to the city's ordinances was first proposed at the Dec. 14 Economic and Community Development Committee meeting and had its first reading at that night's city council meeting. Dec. 21 was the second reading and public hearing for the legislation.

Two members of the public spoke following Sciotto's presentation.

Kurt Gearhiser, who said he has a lot of experience with nonprofit organizations, expressed concern at the city's involvement in Destination Hilliard's board of trustees, preferring it to be independent. Sciotto offered to be the first to leave. He said Destination Hilliard would also function as a community investment corporation, routinely started by municipalities. Law director Pamela Fox said city involvement was necessary "to get it off the ground."

Gearhiser also said that the city of Hilliard could become open to similar criticism as the CVB.

Pat Gailbrandt, who said she represented the historical society, praised the CVB for funding a number of the society's projects.

"It wasn't just money, it was materials," Gailbrandt said. "I would hate to see (it) dissolved."

She suggested a compromise that would allow the bureau to continue producing brochures.

Sciotto said council had no power to dissolve the bureau, and that it had sufficient funds to continue operating on its own.

No one representing the Convention & Visitors Bureau spoke at the hearing, and a voicemail requesting comment was not returned by ThisWeek's press time.

Councilman Albert Iosue has asked Sciotto in committee and council to continue to work with the CVB. He also questioned the composition of the trustees at the Dec. 21 meeting.

"We weren't appointed as city officials," said Mayor Don Schonhardt. He said that he, Sciotto and economic development director David Meeks were appointed as city residents. "We will take the time to ensure that those seven members are representative of the community as a whole."

The ordinance is expected to receive its third reading and possible passage on Jan. 11.