City officials believe tax revenue for overnight stays is lost to Portland; Scappose notes hotel goals

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The St. Helens City Council is planning to promote Airbnb rentals within the St. Helens city limits and is raising the transient hotel tax from 7 to 10 percent as part of a strategy to raise more money for tourism promotion. The St. Helens City Council believes hundreds of thousands of tourists' dollars are leaving the city ever year for Portland, and the council has a plan to stop it.

"More visitors want to come to St. Helens and spend money than we can accommodate here — and we want to correct that," explained St. Helens City Manager John Walsh on a recent council vote to "modernize" the city's lodging and tourism policy.

The March 21 council action raises the city's lodging tax to generate more tourism promotions, including aggressively encouraging people to open Airbnbs inside the city limits. While Internet searches show a dozen Airbnbs in the greater St. Helens area, Walsh is not aware of any inside the city.

"Our two motels can't absorb all the business and we're losing a lot of travelers who drive into Portland because of the lack of accommodations in town," Walsh said.

Walsh Several city-sponsored workshops are planned this summer to encourage interested St. Helens residents and property owners to use their homes as Airbnb rentals as a revenue source.

As part of that strategy, will the council is raising the overnight transient lodging tax from 7 to 10 percent. At the current tax rate, the city is expected to raise $140,000 for the city budget.

"It's a pass-through tax that generates more money for tourism promotion, creating Airbnbs and Waterfront development," Walsh said of the transient tax.

The new 10 percent rate is comparable to what Portland motels, hotels and Airbnbs pay. Portland lodging establishments pay a 6 percent city and 5 percent Multnomah County lodging tax. Columbia County does not have a lodging tax.

All lodging establishments in Oregon pay an additional 1.8 percent tax per guest.

No lodging industry has openly opposed the tax increase, including Tokola Properties, which is now negotiating with the city for a proposed 75 to 100 hotel and restaurant complex on the St. Helens waterfront, Walsh said.

Scappoose city officials are also seeking more lodging business. Scappoose does not have a single motel or Airbnb inside the city limits, and City Manager Mike Sykes does not anticipate the city seeking to create more Airbnbs. Instead, it is aiming for the large prize of landing a major motel or hotel.

"Several hotel chains are looking at the Scappoose area," Sykes said. If the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center near the airport really takes off," he predicts, "the hotels and motels will be interested in us."

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