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Southold Town mulls Peconic Region Tourism Marketing District

A bill in the New York State Legislature aims to create a marketing district for Long Island’s five East End Towns, as well as incorporated villages, that would generate revenue to advance regional tourism.

But municipalities would be allowed to opt out of the potential Peconic Region Tourism Marketing District, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session at Peconic Landing in Greenport.

One of the district’s first goals would be to expand transportation to, from and within the district. Ironically, the supervisor said, this comes at the same time as a proposed trolley service between Mattituck and Southold that would stop at businesses along the route.

“I’ve got to be honest, we’ve got a trolley over here, a trolley here, we’ve had trolleys over the years,” he said. “These groups need to start talking because you’ve got the same ideas by different groups competing for the same money.”

Other goals would include establishing sales and marketing programs designed to attract visitors, building public relations activities, pursuing grants that benefit properties within the district and allocating revenues for specific promotion efforts, according to the legislation, which was introduced by state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

The “consortium of funds” would be built up through a $1 per night tax on occupied rooms in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in the five towns, Mr. Russell said of the current proposal. The district would look for $1 million from that revenue to put toward tourism marketing.

The county is already collecting revenue to promote tourism, the supervisor said. The East End already contributes 43 percent of the $10 million the county collects annually in taxes, and just $166,000 is given back in “outright allocation,” he said.

“How many different taxes are you going to collect to achieve the same goal when it’s not clear the first one that’s being collected is the most evenly distributed or fairly distributed?” he said.

Mr. Russell said he spoke to Mr. LaValle’s office to let them know he doesn’t think the Southold Town Board has had enough time to evaluate the idea. The senator agreed to table the measure until the fall, he said.

Councilman William Ruland said he’s glad of that because there are some questions about the proposal, including making sure that each municipality is able to make its own decisions as part of the marketing district.

“Anything that has the words ‘five East End towns’ in it just seems to historically say the South Fork is going to be the dog and we’re going to be the tail,” Mr. Ruland said.

Councilman Bob Ghosio wondered how much more tourism the area needs.

“We’re overrun as it is and so is the South Fork,” he said, noting that traffic is already building on the East End ahead of Memorial Day. “I think it’s great that we’re developing business and we have a strong economy and we live in a tourist area. I’m not quite sure what the goal is for this. I don’t know how many more tourists we can take.”

Mr. Russell said he was told the principal goal is to be able to move people around once they get to the area and reduce congestion by using trolley or shuttle services. But, he added, it all comes down to routes and costs.

He said Uber should be considered in future transportation discussions. It’s an option “that might have a substantial impact on moving people around once they’re here that just wasn’t available in the past,” he said.

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Photo: Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell at Tuesday’s meeting in Greenport. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)