MWDN: Bill would create MetroWest tourism bureau
March 3, 2010
By Kendall Hatch, The MetroWest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM — A proposed bill on Beacon Hill would bring tourism dollars to MetroWest and help reduce red tape for businesses, state Sen. Karen Spilka said during a forum at Framingham State College yesterday.
The measure, Senate Bill 2270, includes a provision to establish a MetroWest Tourism and Visitors Bureau.
A MetroWest Visitors Bureau would highlight attractions like the Amazing Things Art Center and Garden in the Woods and keep tourism dollars in the region, said Spilka.
“We compete with Boston,” she said. “There is nothing to bring (tourists) out because we don’t have a bureau.”
Joining Spilka at the forum were Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and representatives Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, Tom Conroy, D-Wayland, Michael Brady, D-Brockton, and David Linsky, D-Natick.
Spilka and Senate President Therese Murray filed the bill on Feb. 8.
Acton Planning Board member Leigh Davis-Honn applauded the potential bureau, saying that making MetroWest a destination instead of a stop along the way could revitalize the region.
“It truly does have a tremendous economic impact,” she said. Davis-Honn said she worked as a consultant in the tourism and hospitality industry before moving to Acton two years ago.
“When people come to visit you, the first thing they ask is, ‘What is there to do?”‘ she said. “So many times, people will just take them to Boston.”
Davis-Honn said she believes a bureau that would highlight points of cultural interest in the area could instill a greater level of civic pride.
The wide-ranging bill would also streamline interaction with the state government for businesses so owners can focus on creating jobs, said Spilka.
The bill aims to create regional “one-stop shops” for businesses in the state through the Massachusetts Office of Business Development.
That agency would contract with regional economic development organizations, which would serve as primary contact points for area businesses. A business seeking assistance from the state would contact the regional agency, which would in turn navigate the state’s bureaucracy, said Spilka.
“This is what we are hearing from businesses – they want one point of contact,” said Spilka.
Measures to increase accountability are included as well. The governor’s economic development chief would act as the chairman of all state authorities engaged in economic development and such authorities would be required to submit annual reports and audits to the state.
The bill would also eliminate the authority of MassDevelopment, the state’s quasi-public finance and development authority, to issue tax-exempt bonds on behalf of nonprofit organizations. That borrowing would be authorized by the Health and Facilities Authority.
In a statement, MassDevelopment said that provision would result in a loss of up to $2.3 million in annual revenues and force it to restrict its offerings.
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, urged lawmakers to maintain the authority and make sure it does not lose funding.
He said the New Bedford Council has worked extensively with MassDevelopment since 2006, engaging in 16 critical planning projects during the partnership.
He said that due largely in part to those planning projects, the city was able to economically revitalize its downtown, expanding its retail base by 40 stores in the last six years.