Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Struggle for Hudson

Yesterday, HudsonValley360 published an article about the growing dissatisfaction with the impact of Airbnb in Hudson: "City officials consider limiting short-term rentals." Tonight, at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting, which begins at 6:15 p.m. at City Hall, the Council is expected to begin discussing imposing a moratorium on the short-term rental of buildings that are not owner occupied.

The issue of Airbnbs--that is, guest rooms or entire houses rented through the online service Airbnb--was also a topic of discussion at the Tourism Board meeting last night. It should be remembered that the Tourism Board was created by the same law--Chapter 275, Article VIII of the City Code, enacted in March 2017--that established a 4 percent lodging tax to be collected by all hotels, inns, B&Bs, and Airbnb rentals. The law empowers the Tourism Board "to take all reasonable steps it determines desirable, necessary and proper to market the City of Hudson as a destination for overnight and daytrip visitors by making use of the funds set aside by the City Treasurer." Those funds are a portion of the lodging tax revenues: 50 percent of the first $250,000; 25 percent of the second $250,000; and 10 percent of all sums above $500,000, never to exceed $250,000 a year. 

Pursuing its directive, the Tourism Board issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a qualified professional to help the board develop "a tourism branding and marketing strategy that encompasses strategic research and analysis, development of a competitive identity, brand strategy and marketing strategy." The deadline for submitting proposals was January 15, and last night, at the regular monthly meeting of the Tourism Board, Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who chairs the board, opened the eight proposals that were received. They came from Van Slyke Strategic Consulting, John Isaacs, Steve Chandler, BBG&G, Fifteen Degrees, Blass Marketing, Adworkshop, and Neo Design Group. It was decided that all eight members of the Tourism Board would read the proposals and the board would hold a special meeting on Tuesday, February 5, to discuss them and determine which of the eight individuals or groups submitting a proposal they would like to invite in to make a presentation.

That accomplished, the business of the Tourism Board was concluded, less than half an hour after the meeting began, but comments from members of the public kept it going for another forty minutes. Rebecca Wolff expressed her concern that articles about Hudson that appear in national media "present a picture of Hudson that is not a reflection of Hudson." In particular, she said, there were no people of color and no children. She told the board that the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) showed "how easily an outside consulting firm can misunderstand the city." She also opined that "Hudson doesn't seem to know itself very well and is quite dysfunctional."

Several members of the Tourism Board responded to Wolff. Tambra Dillon told her the board wanted to find a way "to market Hudson so that people who live here are the beneficiaries of tourism." Kristen Keck said the board wanted to "know what's out there and figure out how to drive the narrative about Hudson." Ted Gramkow added, "A lot of the story of Hudson is being told by other people. We want to take the story and manage it."

Peter Spear expressed the opinion the Tourism Board's RFP "puts the cart before the horse," asserting that we shouldn't be marketing Hudson when we have urban planning issues. He maintained that "urban planning is the only form of marketing we need," asserted "the Tourism Board is absurd," and urged that the funds from the lodging tax be redirected.

Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann complained that she has no neighbors "because it is all Airbnb." She advised, "We need to put the brakes on and invest in our community." She went on to say, "Living here is hard . . . [for] people who have gotten very little from the new energy that has come [to Hudson]."

Keck responded to the criticism, "All of these issues were issues we have discussed. We all live here. We all want the best community we can have." Gramkow added, "We've spent no money to get eight proposals. The RFP is part of the learning process. Is it our goal to solve all the problems in Hudson? No, but we're part of it."

Expect the discussion of Airbnb and tourism to continue at tonight's meeting of the Legal Committee.


  1. i think it is unfair that owners of buildings are not allowed to do what they want with them.

    the taxes in hudson are 4 times higher than they are in Palm Beach and there are many less services. No garbage pick up. Bad expensive schools --- to name two problems.

    there are many non tax paying buildings in hudson that are listed for rent at high rates for "event' spaces and that should not be.
    No taxes -- then no events. TSL is one glaring example. the building is worth a million dollars and at the mil rate in hudson, it should be paying about 50 k or more in city, county and school taxes.

    Its easy to say kill Airbnb when you avoid paying these high ridiculuous taxes.

    Hudson needs places to stay and the stores need customers.

    Sales tax revenues are up 7 % in columbia county and have been going up for years. that means that small business people are actually doing business.

    in a normal world that is supposed to be a good thing. but not in Hudson. its an alice in wonderland world of negative economics.

  2. It's absurd that the lodging tax is being used to attract more tourists. A portion of that money should be going into a sidewalk fund to help fix the deplorable condition of our sidewalks. Now that would be a wise use of the money tourists spend here.
    Bill Huston

    1. I agree - the lodging tax should be going to benefit the citizens of Hudson. Hudson is overrun with tourists as it is. No advertising is needed to promote more.

    2. I believe half the revenue from the lodging tax goes into the general fund up to $250K, at which point 100% of the money goes to the general fund.

    3. Does money in the general fund go toward fixing our sidewalks? Don't think so.

  3. I also think it is relevant that the Hudson Valley is the 19th most popular destination IN THE WORLD - according to Airbnb’s own data.

    Hudson has the highest concentration of listings in the Hudson Valley, so this bears on the Tourism Boards mission to “establish HUDSON as a destination.”

    This work has already been done, and the Tourism Board is moving closer to spending money to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

    1. Peter Spear I think it goes without saying that Hudson is a small part of the Hudson Valley. Moreover, the Hudson Valley is listed among those destinations with the highest year-over-year uptick in searches. Hudson the city is certainly not the 19th most popular AirBnB destination in the world. We are a city of 6K people, and shrinking. #19 is listed as Taiwan, for crying out loud. It's a freaking country (sort of.)

    2. John
      I wonder what percentage of listings in the Hudson Valley are in Hudson? I don’t know.

      Even a small percentage may prove to be significant for us as a city - especially when compared to what can be generated by a municipal volunteer tourism Board with a small budget.

      I am skeptical, but open.

      I simply want to pout at an opportunity to do things differently. Besides, a commitment to improving the quality of life for residents, however, might also “shift the narrative” in a direction more favorable to local businesses.

      WAMC ran this in September “Hudson Tourism Boom Puts Economic Pressure On Residents”

      As a fun aside, compare our policies to what Denver is doing with it’s new revenue from marijuana:
      “A record of more than $50 million for affordable housing thanks in large part to a 2 percent increase in the city’s retail marijuana sales tax rate, allowing for the creation or preservation of more than 6,000 new housing units over the next five years.”

  4. Hudson has 2 major industries: tourism (lodging, food/drink, shopping) and the not-for-profit community (i.e. the industry of poverty). There are no tax revenues for the City in poverty so it is left to tourism to float the boat as it were. Partially, this is a problem caused by the NFPs themselves: by purchasing buildings and taking them off the property tax rolls, these organizations put the cost of their presence in the city on their neighbors. They may provide a benefit (that's a qualitative issue), but they most certainly impose a cost on those of us who do pay taxes -- the property and home owners and their tenants. Given that the NFPs and the various local, county, state and federal properties (along with the utility properties) collectively own approximately 1/2 of the total property inventory of the city, it is relatively easy to understand that their presence in the city increase our property taxes by 50%. One half. And the same is true for school taxes as they are immune from those as well.

    Paying for the sidewalks is relatively easy and has been well-known to many for years: a special property tax assessment on all properties (that aren't exempt) to repay a bond the City floats for the total cost of the project. We're talking many millions of dollars -- the 4% bed tax ain't going to float that boat any time soon. But, bearing in mind that only a portion of the bed tax is used to market the city as a destination (the vast bulk of the funds going to the City's general fund), it could certainly be redirected by the Council if it saw fit to do so but understand it won't obviate the need for alternative funding -- i.e. a bond repaid by property taxes. I understand and empathize with your bitch, but your solution is not a solution.

    Don't want Hudson to be so reliant on tourism? Invest in an alternative business found here.

  5. Peter Spear submitted this additional comment:

    I wanted to share the thinking behind my assertion that urban planning is the only form of marketing the City needs.

    Please forgive me for getting pedantic.

    What I want to offer is an alternative interpretation of tourism marketing that places the resident experience at the center of our investments.

    There are two parts to branding and brand management.

    On one side is the cultural narrative, which we can call storytelling.

    On the other is the lived experience of the product or service, which has been called storydoing.

    Both are marketing. The goal is to get them into alignment with each other.

    For cultural narrative or storytelling help, you hire a tourism advertising, communications or marketing firm. They will do research, develop a brand positioning, and communications strategies to increase social media engagement metrics.

    For service experience or storydoing help, you hire an urban planning & design firm. They will do some form of community engagement (distinct from brand research) and develop strategies for experiences and services.

    I think we have a city service experience problem that requires a storydoing solution.

    I do not believe we need a storytelling solution, yet this is how the Board has defined the scope.

    My wish is that we send the RFP to a handful of urban design firms to see see what a storydoing solution looks like.

    Failing this, I would like to see the funds directed to the seat of planning in the City so that residents are the primary beneficiary of the lodging tax.