Atascadero to lose two contract employees key to promoting tourism

Atascadero will lose two contract employees key to its tourism efforts now that redevelopment agencies statewide are shutting down, leaving city officials wondering how to fund tourism promotion.

The city’s contract with S.W. Martin and Associates includes several services, such as advertising in visitors guides, Atascadero’s tourism website and participation in the annual Sunset Savor the Central Coast wine and food event.

The contract employed the firm’s owner, Steve Martin, and his full-time executive assistant, Gail Kudlac. Their service, which cost $133,000 this year, has been funded by redevelopment money, transient occupancy taxes and other funds over the years.

The contract is slated to end in June, meaning there won’t be anyone to run the city’s various campaigns.

“That position will be gone,” redevelopment Chairwoman Roberta Fonzi said. “We’re asking, ‘How will we do this now?’ ”

One idea is to form a business improvement district, Fonzi said, but officials are still brainstorming. Those districts typically place a self-imposed fee on businesses to solely fund tourism marketing.

Tourism promotion and economic vitality are key goals in Atascadero, officials say.

“We really like Steve; he’s hard-working, so it really is a blow,” Fonzi said.

Atascadero’s hotel stays increased 20 percent in the past year, officials said.

The duo also manages the nonprofit Atascadero Main Street program, which is headquartered across from the Sunken Gardens. Aside from Main Street board of directors meetings, the quaint little office could close when Martin and Kudlac leave.

Atascadero Main Street was established by the city in 2001 to help revitalize downtown. It hosts business-oriented events to promote its downtown members, such as the annual Sweetheart Stroll, which features music and dancing in downtown around Valentine’s Day, and the quarterly Art & Wine Tours that link shoppers with local artists and businesses with wine tasting.

Because its programs are also funded by the redevelopment agency, costing $28,500 this year, its volunteer board of directors has decided to become independent of the city. More details, such as how the nonprofit program will operate without city funds, will be addressed at its February meeting.

Main Street could start charging for events that were once free, officials said. But the changes could also be subtle, for example seeking more sponsors for event supplies, board Vice President Karyn Sturtevant said.

“We have to be revenue neutral,” she added.