Our Views: New Viking River Cruises on Mississippi River good for Louisiana _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --The American Queen riverboat docks in Baton Rouge for an afternoon of touring.

Voters who head to the polls this month will have a second chance to decide whether those who stay in Baton Rouge hotel rooms should pay an extra tax to help pay for local tourism efforts and improvements to the Raising Cane's River Center.

Visit Baton Rouge is asking to impose a 2 percent hotel sales tax on rooms in the Capital City. A nearly identical tax failed at the polls a year ago, but this year's proposal excludes hotels in Zachary, Baker and Central — all areas where people last time voted against the measure.

Visit Baton Rouge and a political action committee backing the proposal called the Baton Rouge Tourism Now PAC are pitching the tax to voters by calling it "the tax we don't pay." Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo blames the tax failure last year partially on voters misunderstanding that the hotel tax would come out of their wallets rather than the pockets of tourists.

Arrigo said Visit Baton Rouge needs more money to lure sports tournaments and business conferences and that could help the bottom lines of Baton Rouge hotels, restaurants, shops and more.

"We're competing against cities we've never competed against," said Karron Alford, the director of marketing for Visit Baton Rouge. "They're vying for the same conferences."

The downtown Baton Rouge hotel market has boomed in recent years, while the Capital City has also recently enjoyed visitor boosts from river cruises that drop off tourists for day trips. The number of downtown hotel rooms has been meeting the demand, but Baton Rouge could use more meeting spaces, Arrigo said.

The proposed tax is expected to generate $2.6 million annually, which would be split equally between Visit Baton Rouge and the Raising Cane's River Center. The River Center portion of the money would go toward arena renovations.

Collection of the proposed tax, which has no expiration date, would start in April of 2018.

A good portion of East Baton Rouge voters will not see the tax on their ballots. Those who live within the boundaries of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District, along with those in Baker, Central and Zachary, will not vote on it.

Reducing the area where the tax would be in effect might help Visit Baton Rouge win the election. Precinct breakdowns from the 2016 Visit Baton Rouge hotel tax election show that voters in downtown, mid city and much of south Baton Rouge voted "yes" last time. Those who voted against the proposal were overwhelmingly in the northern half of the parish and along its eastern boundary.

An expense report for The Baton Rouge Tourism Now PAC that covered the committee's fundraising and spending through Oct. 9 shows they raised $14,000 and spent $4,055 on yard signs, legal fees, printing charges for checks and registering the PAC.

Those who have donated to the PAC thus far include the Louisiana Restaurant Association; Red Stick Hospitality, LLC; and L.B. Interests, LLC.

The tax proposal does not appear to have a formal opposition campaign working against it. 

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced Nov. 3 they are backing the tax, which they deemed a "tourism infrastructure" proposal. BRAC said the tax should have a positive economic impact on the Capital City.

"The plans outlined by officials with the River Center and Visit Baton Rouge align with BRAC’s strategic goal of elevating the region’s external image," reads the endorsement from BRAC.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​