Eau Claire Voters Would Decide If Possible Hotel/Restaurant Taxes Would Fund Convention Center

Tom Giffey

The proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex
The proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex could benefit from a new proposed tax.

Would you be willing to pay a little extra when you eat out or stay in a hotel in Eau Claire to help build a proposed convention center? That’s the gist of a bill pending in the state Legislature, which would allow the cities of Eau Claire and Superior to create special expo center districts funded by new taxes on food, beverages, and hotel rooms.

But before you get excited by the possibility of a shiny new convention center or angry at the thought of new taxes, take a deep breath: This is a long way from happening. The bill still needs to be approved by both the state Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, and time is running short: The Legislature is only scheduled to be in floor session 16 more days this year. And even if the bill does become law, the Eau Claire City Council would have to approve a resolution asking for the new taxes and then the majority of Eau Claire voters would have to approve the taxes in a referendum.

1 Cent for Every $4 ... but Only by Referendum

If all that happened, the city could impose a food and beverage tax of 0.25 percent (that’s one-quarter of a percent, or 1 cent for every $4) and a room tax up to 2 percent. According to an estimate by the state Department of Administration, the 0.25 percent food and beverage tax could raise $600,000 annually in Eau Claire, while a 2 percent room tax would raise $470,000 in the city. (The city already imposes an 8 percent room tax, which raises money for Visit Eau Claire, the Hobbs Municipal Ice Center, Fairfax Pool, and other tourism-related activities.)

Presumably, in Eau Claire’s case, the newly collected taxes would help pay for the proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which UW-Eau Claire hopes to build on Menomonie Street. That complex, first announced in 2014, could include a 130,000-square-foot major event center; a recreation center shared by UWEC, the Eau Claire YMCA, and Mayo Clinic Health System; and private development such as a hotel.

The bill’s support among major interest groups is mixed: Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s biggest business organization, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, and numerous Superior-area groups registered to lobby in favor of it (Superior has been pushing for a convention center for years), but the Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus and the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association registered in opposition.

The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Eau Claire and Superior areas, including Sens. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, and Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, and Reps. Warren Petryk, R-Eleva, and Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.

To read the bill and other background materials, visit https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/sb727

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