Bellingham officials looking for next big event to draw tourism, business

The city is looking for ideas for a new “signature event” that will bring tourists to town to fill up hotel rooms and boost business, as well as highlight the many things Bellingham has going for it.

With up to $75,000 in lodging tax from hotel and motel visitors set aside for 2015, and up to $50,000 in 2016 and 2017, the city is looking to get one or more events off the ground.

Applicants are encouraged to propose events that are unlike anything already done here, or in other nearby cities, said Shannon Taysi, of the Planning and Community Development department.

“People aren’t going to go to Bellingham if they can already (go to an event) in their own community,” Taysi said. “Beyond that, we’re looking for something that is going to enhance life for our residents and businesses, for the people who live here.”

Bellingham already plays host to many local events, including the annual Ski to Sea race from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay that takes place each May.

City staff are hoping one or more groups might have an idea for an event that would similarly highlight the area’s strengths, such as outdoor activities, arts, food, and culture, particularly during the off-season between September and March.

The city also is open to helping grow smaller, relatively new events that are already held here, Taysi said.

The application, which is available online at cob.org/services/business/tourism-rfp.aspx, points out that in previous peak seasons, visitors have had to find places to stay outside of Whatcom County because all of the city’s hotel rooms were full.

There are 650 rooms – a 50 percent increase in capacity – that either recently opened or are planned to open soon, including rooms at a handful of hotels that have popped up in north Bellingham near the airport and major retailers.

“We want something that is drawing people to the area but also has an element of bringing people downtown,” Taysi said. “The funds are made available because of lodging tax — we’re trying to increase stays, so we’re looking at a multi-day event.”

Applications are due by Feb. 13, 2015; no late entries will be considered.

The online application includes detailed information about how entries will be scored and what types of activities could be covered with the city’s seed money.