Economic plan, tourism converge for City Council

The Ocean Shores City Council on Monday took its first formal look at a mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee report that recommends the community “come to an agreement that one of our strongest and most influential economic drivers is tourism.”

“Tourism offers continuous opportunities to increase business and city revenues as well as boost general economic activity for the entire Ocean Shores community,” states the top priority of the Ocean Shores Economic Development Ad Hoc Committee.

It was formed by Mayor Crystal Dingler from a focus group that included nine local community members, along with members of Greater Grays Harbor Inc. and the Grays Harbor Council of Governments.

The second priority is to create a permanent “strong and organized committee that acts as an events coordinator/information/marketing center for tourism events in Ocean Shores.”

“Tourism is Ocean Shores’ primary industry,” the report states. “The visitors that come to Ocean Shores spend money in a variety of ways throughout the city. Those same visitors are our biggest source of new full-time and part-time residents.”

The third priority is to create additional opportunities for economic development.

“All types of camps or conferences could be pursued to come to Ocean Shores once a mechanism is in place to facilitate such activities,” the report predicts. “These could include car shows, sewing and craft workshops, celebrity shows, theater events, concerts, culinary schools, etc.”

Council members on Monday first heard from the city Planning Commission, which urged the city to consider the Ad Hoc Committee report along with its broader Economic Development plan. The Planning Commission noted in a recommendation that its economic development plan is based on a 20-year look at all of the city’s economic goals, while the committee report is more focused on tourism and the recent impacts of the recession on local tourism business.

“In seeking economic stability for Ocean Shores it is critical to develop new economic sectors. Historically, tourism has been the major economic base for the city. However, as growth has occurred, other economic sectors (such as construction) have made large advances,” the Planning Commission said.

Developing alternative “economic sectors” and promoting year-round tourist activities, the report adds, would “lessen the impact of the city’s cyclical business activity.”

Dingler noted that “both of these plans that we are looking at have been in the works for over a year… . We have to begin looking ahead and figure what we can do even if it is the small things.”

Planning Commission Chair Chris Turcotte explained the Economic Development report was originally launched in part to put together information that could be used by businesses or others considering Ocean Shores as a location. It contains a number of recommendations for economic development with goals such as:

“Continue the vitalization of Ocean Shores’ commercial areas and coordinate with commercial development in outlying areas.”

“Encourage retail and service commercial uses to locate within the existing commercial centers.”

“Strengthen the role of the northern business district as the central business district of Ocean Shores and the North Beach area, and encourage further growth and development of the southern business district.”

Although both reports were warmly received by the City Council, some members pointed out the city budget is strapped for funds. A proposal later in the regular meeting to help pay for the new business-backed Ocean Shores sign in Aberdeen was divided and tabled for another session.

“We don’t have the money to do it right now, but something we have to get in the Comprehensive Plan is economic development,” Councilwoman Ginny Hill said. Hill noted one of the more controversial proposals of the Ad Hoc Committee report is to allow more properties to be used for overnight rentals, and she asked how that would be administered and controlled. She also pointed out the issue of nightly rentals was turned down by a previous city vote.

Mark Plackett, a committee member, pointed to the development of Seabrook south of Pacific Beach as an example, where he said 60-70 percent of homeowners are involved in the managed nightly rental pool of homes available for tourism.

“We heard real estate folks here in town that it would make it easier to sell higher-end properties, if they could have a way to make money off of that higher-end product, which again are overnight rentals,” he said.

“There has to be enough money in it that comes to the city to make it worthwhile process for the city to administer it,” Plackett said of how to pay for the cost of a nightly rental program.

Other members of the committee were Plackett’s wife, Holly, also a Planning Commission Member; Bill Vandenbush, Richard Skewis, Mike Doolittle, Tate Johnson, Dianne Hansen, Judy Horn, David Saunders and Chamber Executive Director Patricia Wright.

Hansen, owner of the Dusty Trunk, said there already exists a need across the North Beach for larger home/vacation rentals.

“A lot of people who want a housing experience doing family reunions and that kind of thing right now stay in communities outside of Ocean Shores because they do allow nightly rentals,” Hansen said. “What would be the benefit be to be able to give those opportunities to people who could stay here?”

A rental would require a business license and taxes and fees would have to be paid, she said.

“We thought that was very important to look at because it is another source of getting additional tourists to stay here in Ocean Shores and additional money coming into the city,” Hansen added.

Doolittle, the owner of Playtime Family Fun Center who has revitalized the go-kart track, arcade and ice-cream parlor in only a few years, was asked by Councilman John Schroeder what the city could do to stimulate more business.

There is no single solution, Doolittle explained, suggesting the town is “ripe for the pickings for fun things for people to do.”

“It’s very obvious that this is a tourist town, and it attracts the young and it attracts the old,” he said.