The City of Bryant has made its park system a priority recently, because it is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Now some city leaders want a tax increase to make those parks even better, but an increase that does not require voter approval.
The Bryant City Council will begin discussions Tuesday night about an ordinance that would create an Advertising and Promotion Commission, and levy a tax with which to fund it.
The tax would require customers to pay an additional two percent at hotels and one percent at all restaurants inside city limits. The resulting revenue could only be spent on advertising for the city, or anything related to the Bryant Parks Department.
“Funding, I mean, outdoor adventures, getting the youth out there and being active, is better than somebody sitting at home and just being lazy,” Jeremy Diggins said.
Diggins was one of many people who could be found playing disc golf at the newly-opened 18-hole course at Bishop Park.
“I really like it,” he said Monday. “I mean, we actually, if you turn around and look at the view, we have concrete pads. Before, all we had was dirt pads; little markers, like stone markers, to show where we could throw from.”
The previous course had only nine holes. The new track, which opened for play last weekend, will be able to host more tournaments, and bring additional people to the park.
“Now we actually have signs showing us everything: where our throw is, the footage, and everything. It’s a great improvement to the parks,” Diggins said. “It brings out a lot more people. We have youth events coming out.”
Disc golf is one of many sports cities around central Arkansas are relying on to draw tourists and put more money in the local economy.
“I’ve played all the way in Russellville, Fayetteville. Go down to Hot Springs every now and then,” Diggins explained as he and a friend walked the course. “We play in Little Rock a lot. There’s over 500 courses in the state of Arkansas.”
In a report from July, Chris Treat, the director of Bryant’s Parks Department, estimated that 7,500 kids had participated in tournaments for various sports at Bishop Park, and that those events had generated nearly $1.5 million for the city.
Diggins believes spending a little more will help those numbers climb higher.
“Just letting the people know that it’s actually here,” he reasoned.
Kara White, president of the Bryant Softball Association, said the tax revenue could have a significant impact on the city. The organization hosts tournaments nearly every weekend during the spring and fall, and between 10-15 teams come from out of town. They tend to stay in local hotels, dine at local restaurants, and shop for snacks at local grocery stores, she mentioned.
She said her goal is to attract more out-of-state teams to compete, but she believed additional upgrades to Bishop Park, including better seating in the pavilion, lights for the parking lot, and improved landscaping, are necessary. But she argued they would be worthwhile expenses if they led more visitors to spend more of their money in Bryant.
City Council member Allen Scott said another benefit would be that dedicated tax dollars would allow the city to redirect some of its general spending to improve other departments, as well.
Not all Bryant residents are so optimistic. One restaurant owner, who asked to remain anonymous, thought a one-cent tax would hurt the local food industry. He claimed that new restaurants are outpacing the growth of the city’s population, and forcing them to increase prices would make them struggle even more.
Some business leaders are also concerned about asking Bryant residents to weather another tax increase.
Voters chose in March to raise their taxes to benefit the Bryant School District, and they approved a plan in 2016 to reissue bonds to help the city.
The city council will start debating this plan Tuesday night. The council will hear public comments about the ordinance, but is not likely to vote on it until December.
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