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San Ramon council supports creating new tourism district

City to break ties with Visit Tri-Valley as other cities consider their options

The San Ramon City Council gave its support Tuesday to developing a new San Ramon-focused tourism district and separating the city from its affiliation with Visit Tri-Valley.

"Focusing on five cities is very difficult for anybody to do," said Pam Callahan, from the San Ramon Hyatt House and member of the city's Tourism Ad Hoc Committee. "I think to really hone in and focus on the city of San Ramon and the hoteliers here and what we have to offer is important, and this is probably the best way to do it."

For nearly a decade San Ramon has participated in a regional marketing effort through Visit Tri-Valley along with Danville, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton. As the communities are being asked to renew a seven-year agreement with the organization, San Ramon plans to pull away.

The city's Tourism Ad Hoc Committee comprised of city commissioners and members of the business and hotel community met four times since mid-December to review three options related to San Ramon tourism efforts: renew the agreement with Visit Tri-Valley, do away with a tourism district completely or form a San Ramon-specific district.

According to assistant city manager Eric Figueroa, the committee agreed that the best decision would be to develop a San Ramon-focused district.

"San Ramon should choose its own destiny," said Chris Truebridge, Sunset Development's senior vice president of planning and entitlements. "There's nothing wrong about cooperating with other jurisdictions, but there's also nothing wrong with being a little bit selfish."

San Ramon hotels contribute about $470,000 annually to the Tri-Valley Tourism Marketing District, with San Ramon Marriott as the largest single contributor in the Tri-Valley, according to Figueroa. The council and representatives from the Tourism Ad Hoc Committee expressed interest in putting those funds toward San Ramon-specific efforts.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do with that money here in San Ramon to promote activities here and keep the people staying in the hotels here, eating in the restaurants here, and buying in the stores here," said Councilman Scott Perkins during the council meeting Tuesday night at San Ramon City Hall.

The council provided various examples of activities that could bring people and families into San Ramon, such as cricket, bocce ball and golf tournaments as well as small conventions.

Part of developing the city's own tourism district requires compiling a governing body which, as recommended by the Ad Hoc committee, would be made up of a five-person board including three hoteliers, one representative from Sunset Development and one member from the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce or business community.

Councilman Dave Hudson said he was concerned about the balance of the proposed board. He said he did not think there should be three members from one group controlling the vote. Hudson suggested there be two hoteliers, one chamber member, one Sunset Development member and one at large to be either a city representative or from another entity.

According to Figueroa, the guidelines for forming a tourism district require that it benefit the hoteliers, which is why the board would consist of three hoteliers so they would hold the majority of the vote.

Hudson also suggested that the new district's focus or branding point should not be tourism but instead be geared toward the visitors and the business groups that come into the city.

"We are a bedroom community that has very strong business parks, so that's what we're supported by consistently," said Nany Fullmore of the San Ramon Marriott and a Visit Tri-Valley board member. "On the weekends, we need to attract leisure which is where the tourism comes in."

Hudson suggested modeling the organization as more of a convention and visitor bureau with a tourism component as opposed to making tourism a top priority.

There was one public comment card submitted, which city clerk Renee Beck read aloud, from a resident who opposes the formation of a San Ramon specific tourism district. The resident said San Ramon is not yet a destination city and she would prefer it remain with Visit Tri-Valley until it becomes a destination.

Toward the end of the approximately 40-minute discussion, the council voted unanimously to move forward with a San Ramon tourism district and directed staff to develop proposals for the structure and formation of the new organization.

City staff will return to the council with further details at a later date yet to be determined.

Mayor Bill Clarkson commended the Ad Hoc Committee and city officials for "not entering into destructive conversation about why San Ramon is pulling away from Visit Tri-Valley." He said he is "happy" that the city has taken the "high road" and focused on the positive points when questioned by residents.

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