BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After it failed last year, will Baton Rouge voters now support a new hotel tax?
East Baton Rouge hospitality leaders made a last-minute push during a press conference Wednesday, asking voters to consider the 2 percent boost to the hotel occupancy tax in most of the parish. Paul Arrigo, president and CEO of Visit Baton Rouge, says the tax increase would be paid for by those who stay at the hotels, not those in the community.
"People from Tuscaloosa, Alabama are going to pay this tax. People from Gainesville, from Starkville, from Houston," Arrigo said.
Estimated to generate $2.6 million each year, half of the money will go to Visit Baton Rouge. Arrigo says the money will be used to pay for marketing, in hopes of attracting more tourists, conventions, and sporting events. The other half will go the Raising Cane's River Center for what leaders say are much needed repairs. "These buildings were built in 1977. Their roofs are beyond their lifespan and we are constantly plugging up the holes," said Michael Day, general manager of the facility.
The 2 percent boost would bring the overall lodging tax in the parish to 16 percent. Data from Visit Baton Rouge and a recent report by the hospitality industry group, HVS, shows the tax boost would bring Baton Rouge into the same ballpark as nearby competitors. Shreveport is around 15 percent, New Orleans is just short of 16 percent, Mobile is at 17 percent, and Birmingham is at 17.5 percent.
Arrigo says he does not believe the tax boost would turn away tourists or prompt them to stay in neighboring parishes. "Between the attractions we have, the restaurants, and the fine hotels, I don't think that is going to be a reason to stay elsewhere," he said.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has also voiced support of the measure, saying in a statement the planned use of the revenue aligns "with BRAC's strategic goal of elevating the region's external image."
This is not the first time this tax has been up for a vote. A similar measure appeared on the ballot in December of 2016. It failed by a slim margin, getting 49 percent of the vote. Arrigo admits that last year, his team did not do a good enough job getting the word out about the tax. While he says they tried to do more this year, political analyst, Jim Engster, says with as few as 10 percent of voters expected to head to the polls, it all depends on who shows up.
"By all odds it should pass, but in a low turnout election, all bets are off," Engster said.
If passed, the tax boost would not apply in Central, Zachary, Baker, or parts of north Baton Rouge. Even so, last year, those areas got to vote and largely opposed the tax. This time around, those regions do not get to vote on the measure.
Election day is Saturday, November 18.