Arts, culture and tourism panel urges Lamont to take lead

East Haddam — Governor-elect Ned Lamont ought to adopt a new strategy for funding arts programs and statewide tourism promotion, create a “Cultural Facilities Fund” like one in place in Massachusetts and form a task force to re-examine the way Connecticut distributes money to the arts, culture and tourism “community.”

That, broadly, is the message the Arts, Culture and Tourism Transition Policy Committee delivered Wednesday to Lt. Gov.-elect Susan Bysiewicz, who represented the Lamont administration during a meeting at the Goodspeed Opera House.

In its report, the committee says the state’s dwindling support for both tourism and arts and culture in recent years has caused the industries “to lose confidence and trust in government as a partner and champion,” and noted that Lamont, during his gubernatorial campaign, vowed he would be “Connecticut’s biggest cheerleader,” if elected.

He may be held to that promise.

“Our state would be well-served to have our new Governor be the lead spokesperson for a new, revitalized commitment to tourism and a champion of arts and culture,” a draft version of the committee’s report says.

More specifically, the committee recommends that a minimum of 25 percent of the revenue generated by the state’s hotel room occupancy tax be diverted to an “Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund,” which would restore funding for tourism promotion to pre-recession levels. Sixty percent of the fund, currently known as the Tourism Fund, would be allocated to tourism and 40 percent to arts and culture.

The hotel occupancy tax generated about $130 million in the most recent fiscal year.

The proposed Cultural Facilities Fund would provide an economic stimulus for the creation of construction jobs; support world-class arts and cultural facilities; increase tourism; expand access and education in the arts, humanities and science; and improve the quality of life in cities and towns, the committee's report says.

The proposed task force’s goal would be ensuring that funds are distributed in a way that maximizes their impact in support of “job creation, economic growth and community vitality.”

Wendy Bury, committee co-chairwoman and executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, told Bysiewicz the committee modeled the proposed facilities fund on a Massachusetts initiative designed to spur public and private investment in cultural facilities. The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has awarded more than $100 million in matching grants over the last decade, Bury said.

In its first 100 days, the Lamont administration also could take such practical steps as opening highway Welcome Centers that have been closed to save money, Stephen Tagliatela, the committee’s other co-chairman, said.

“We’re surrounded by $90 million worth of marketing,” he said, referring to the annual funding the neighboring states of Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island are committing to tourism promotion. Rhode Island, for example, has been targeting eastern Connecticut residents for some time.

Another committee recommendation calls for replacing the “Constitution State” lettering on state license plates with “ctvisit.com,” the website of the Connecticut tourism office, which lists and promotes the state’s attractions.

The committee advises the Lamont administration to “re-imagine” the state’s current approach to regional tourism, which has been all but eliminated amid the defunding of three regional tourism districts, including one encompassing the eastern part of the state. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, announced in October that he planned to form a special advisory committee to address regional tourism and other tourism-related issues.

Seven of the committee’s 20 members have ties to southeastern Connecticut.

In addition to Bury and Tagliatela, president of the Connecticut Tourism Coalition and managing member of the Saybrook Point Inn, Marina & Spa in Old Saybrook, they include Stephen White, president and chief executive officer of the Mystic Seaport Museum; Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut; Jason Guyot, senior vice president of resort operations of Foxwoods Resort Casino; Jeffrey Hamilton, assistant general manager of Mohegan Sun; and Maria Miranda, owner of Miranda Creative, the Norwich advertising agency.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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