A plan to increase Branson’s tax on food and beverage, with the intent to improve sports facilities, made its way before the Branson Board of Aldermen for the first time Tuesday, and could find itself before voters in November.
Kristina Hagey, a representative of the Branson Chamber of Commerce and CVB’s Sports Funding and Advisory Task Force, presented the plan to the board, asking them to eventually consider it for the November ballot. Due to the item being a presentation, the board did not conduct a vote on the issue.
According to Hagey, multiple studies show Branson has everything sports tournament directors are looking for in a community except for availability of facilities. Sports tourism, Hagey said, is also a driver in what is known as “the shoulder seasons.”
“We are missing a huge opportunity for our community. Not only for our kiddos and our adult families, but also for our community to grow in the economic impact,” Hagey said.
“We have the opposite problem some other communities have,” Hagey added. “They have the fields, they have no hotels, they have no entertainment, they don’t have enough restaurants, they don’t have enough shopping centers for them. We have shopping, we have hotels, we have restaurants, we have plenty of things off the field, but we don’t have enough fields to accommodate their needs.”
With the loss of the ballfields at Stockstill Park after years of repeated flooding, Hagey said space has become more scarce for families looking for places to play.
“We have kiddos coming in to play basketball and they don’t have the time or space to practice before the games even start,” Hagey said. “They don’t have time for any practices because all the indoor courts and outdoor fields are being used every minute of every evening of every day for our little league games played, just for indoor volleyball and basketball games. We have outgrown our current need, not for the economic impact of teams coming into our area, but just for our own kiddos who want to play in those.”
According to Hagey, a half-cent increase to the city’s food and beverage tax, plus grants and sponsorships, would be able to fund projected $14.2 million in improvements to the Branson RecPlex. Branson’s current food and beverage tax is a half cent. The proposed increase would raise it to one cent.
“In our studies, we found over 80% of food and beverage tax is paid by our tourists,” Hagey said.
In what is described as Phase One of the plan, Hagey detailed adding additional multi-purpose indoor courts for basketball, volleyball and pickelball, turfing the outdoor soccer/multipurpose area, turf the baseball and softball fields while adding four additional fields with 300-foot fences, one of which would be designated as a “championship field.”
“The original plan of the RecPlex was to expand, it was just the beginning,” Hagey said. “There’s already infrastructure at the RecPlex, all it needs is just the structure built on the land already prepared for this.”
During the section for public comment on the proposal, several members of the community spoke in support of the plan, which would add new sports facilities to Branson. Several members of the community cited having to travel long distances for sports and having access to facilities in Branson.
Hamilton Chang, managing partner at Ballparks of America, said he would be interested in pursuing a potential partnership with the city to meet some of the needs outlined in the proposal at Ballparks of America.
“We would love to work on this as a partnership with the task force,” Chang said. “So we can provide our services, building and amenities to our community and also traveling teams.”
Another topic of discussion from Tuesday’s presentation was the ability from funds coming from tourism tax to be used for sports facilities. A portion of Section 94.815 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri reads, “75 percent of the taxes collected shall be deposited in an ‘Infrastructure Account’ within the tourism tax trust fund and shall be used, upon appropriation by the municipality, solely for the purpose of constructing and maintaining infrastructure improvements, to include sidewalks, streets, highways, roads, waterworks, wastewater including distribution and collection systems and solid waste disposal facilities.”
The question was raised if the tax would apply for infrastructure for sports facilities. The city’s food and beverage tax is levied inside the tourism tax.
The board of aldermen directed City Attorney Chris Lebeck to look into the issue and provide an answer to the board before moving ahead on the issue.
During the presentation, Hagey outlined a potential path for aldermen to vote on the issue for the first time in July.