TRAVERSE CITY — A growing debate over the toll that more frequent festivals and increased tourism takes on Traverse City’s infrastructure has pushed noise and trash questions off the main stage.
Festival promoters and tourism officials oppose an increase in festival fees as arbitrary, and they question city officials’ statements that more tourists and festivals translates to increased burden on local government. They also maintain increased economic activity from tourism — what they contend is an estimated $1 billion-plus a year in direct spending — covers any additional cost the city may incur.
But city Commissioner Barbara Budros, perhaps the city’s most outspoken advocate for increased fees for festivals on city property, put it bluntly: tourism is a drain on the city’s infrastructure, from trash pickup to wear and tear on city streets, parks, and other services.
“Tourists come here and put money into the area’s businesses; they don’t put any money into the city’s general fund,” she said. “I agree tourism is an economic driver here, but we have to be careful with balancing this so we are not ruining our city.”
Brad Van Dommelen, president and CEO for the local Visitors Bureau that recently renamed itself Traverse City Tourism, called Budros’ comments “irresponsible.” He said visitors spend $1.2 billion in the area and create 12,000 jobs. Without tourism, he said the city’s downtown would be “boarded up.” Instead, the thriving business community generates property taxes to feed the city, he said.
Van Dommelen, who lives in Long Lake Township, said he’s against proposed limits on festivals, higher festival fees, or any city policy that deters economic activity. Festival critics, he charged, are a minority of mostly retired teachers and auto workers who live on pensions who don’t have to worry about making a living.