Taking over: Struggling visitors bureau becomes city division
The Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, the entity responsible for marketing the city and attracting events that fill hotel beds, is now a division of the city of Brownsville.
It’s only a temporary move, however, intended to put the nonprofit organization back on solid financial footing before cutting it loose again.
The city commission approved the change at its Sept. 17 regular meeting in response to a request from the BCVB board of directors. Meanwhile, longtime BCVB executive director Ramiro “Bean” Ayala submitted his resignation last month to take a job as executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities Rio Grande Valley, based in Harlingen.
BCVB’s staff of five is now down to one full-time employee (administrative manager Felix Espinosa) and one part-time employee.
Omar Perera, BCVB board chairman, said the transition to becoming a city entity started with Ayala, who brought the idea to the board in the face of BCVB’s financial struggles, largely due to the rising cost of providing employee health insurance. The board approved the plan and brought it to the city.
BCVB’s operations are funded through a percentage of the city’s hotel and motel occupancy tax, which totals about $1.4 million a year, plus revenue generated by the annual Brownsville Official Visitors Guide.
Perera said BCVB’s annual budget is normally around $585,000 but that as much as 65 percent has been going for operational costs — especially health insurance, which has left little money for the organization to pursue its marketing mission.
“ Health (insurance) went up so high in this past year that we were going to come to a big shortfall if we didn’t make some decisions quickly,” he said. “Once we ended up making those decisions we ended up with a surplus.”
BCVB headquarters at 650 Ruben Torres Blvd. and the Scale House satellite office at 1700 E. 6th St. will remain open “with whatever staff the city has to basically help us out with,” he said. The BCVB board will now serve in an advisory role, Perera said.
Interim City Manager Michael Lopez said the city plans to conduct a search for a new BCVB executive director and is looking at other CVBs to get an idea of appropriate full-time staff size.
“ As of now they’ll probably need an executive director and probably an administrative person,” he said.
Lopez said the city will implement “standard operating procedures” for BCVB and stabilize its financial situation before making it an independent entity again, though the city will still handle accounting for the organization.
This will allow BCVB to retain its nonprofit status, with the city performing certain functions, which will make for a more efficient operation and — by reducing administrative costs — free up more of BCVB’s budget for marketing, he said. Lopez estimated that BCVB will be independent again in 12 to 18 months.
“ We’ll have a service agreement with the CVB,” he said. “We’ll handle operational stuff in the background so they can focus on marketing and bringing tourists into the city of Brownsville.”