Baker County’s often-delayed plan to pick a contractor to operate a visitors center in Baker City has yielded two proposals, and the applicants are the same two that sought the contract almost two years ago.
The deadline to submit proposals for the visitor services contract was Sept. 24, and the county received proposals from the Baker County Chamber of Commerce (under the umbrella of Baker County Unlimited) and Anthony Lakes Outdoor Recreation Association (previous Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort).
The Chamber of Commerce had the previous contract, for about $77,000 per year. The Chamber runs a visitors center at 490 Campbell St., near Interstate 84.
That contract, which Baker County Commissioners extended several times in 2020 and earlier this year, expired Aug. 31.
The Chamber has continued to operate the visitors center since the contract expired, executive director Shelly Cutler said.
County commissioners are tentatively set to meet Oct. 14 and choose between the two proposals. The new contract would run through Jan. 1, 2024. Money for the contract comes from the tax that guests pay at motels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rental homes and other lodging businesses.
Baker County officials declined to give copies of the two proposals to the Baker City Herald.
In an email, county counsel Kim Mosier wrote that the county, in the Request for Proposals (RFP) that county commissioners approved Sept. 8, “made assurances to potential proposers that their responses would be kept confidential until they are discussed in a public meeting by the (Transient Lodging Tax) Committee and a recommendation is sent to the Board of Commissioners.”
“The intent of this provision is to allow the TLT Committee to ask questions, seek clarification and potentially negotiate with each proposer, without disclosing the contents of the proposal to the competing proposers,” Mosier wrote.
The lodging tax committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 7 to review the two proposals. The committee will then make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who have the final say in awarding the contract.
In denying the Herald’s request for copies of the two proposals, Mosier cited a section of Oregon’s Public Records Law that allows public agencies (but does not require) to withhold records when, according to the law, the “information submitted to a public body in confidence and not otherwise required by law to be submitted, where such information should reasonably be considered confidential, the public body has obliged itself in good faith not to disclose the information, and when the public interest would suffer by the disclosure.”
Mosier wrote in her email to the Herald that “The public interest would suffer by disclosing the proposals prior to the public meeting. Allowing the competing proposers to see the contents of the proposals gives them the opportunity to modify their responses to questions, clarifications and negotiations in a way that could undermine the public benefit of the competitive process.”
However, both Cutler and Peter Johnson, general manager of Anthony Lakes Outdoor Recreation Association, supplied copies of their proposals to the Herald.
Those two organizations were also the only to submit proposals at the end of 2019.
In early 2020 both the lodging tax committee and the Baker County Economic Development Committee, after reviewing the proposals, recommended commissioners award the contract to Anthony Lakes.
But commissioners decided in February to postpone a decision, and the process was delayed several times subsequently.
The proposed location for the visitors center is the same in the current proposals as in the 2019 versions.
The Chamber would keep the center in its current location at 490 Campbell St.
“The Baker County Visitor Center’s location is uniquely optimal for this particular city and county,” the Chamber’s proposal states. “While some destinations have chosen to locate their visitor centers next to or within a major attraction or in a downtown location, the Baker County Visitor Center has long been situated at the busiest entrance to Baker City, in a highly visible spot beside the freeway exit onto Campbell Street.”
Anthony Lakes proposes to operate a visitors center at 1830 Main St., beside its bike, hiking and outdoor shop, The Trailhead, on the east side of Main Street between Valley and Court avenues.
“1830 Main Street could not be more ideal for a Visitor Center,” Anthony Lakes’ proposal states. “Located in the heart of downtown historic Baker City, this location brings visitors to beautiful downtown Baker City and proximate small businesses. In addition, the amount of already existing foot traffic of visitors in the downtown area will provide for substantially higher visitation rates to the physical Visitor Center than have been seen or documented in the past.”
Parking, particularly for RVs and trailers, is an issue that one lodging tax committee member raised in early 2020 regarding Anthony Lakes’ proposal.
The concern was that the downtown location lacked parking, especially for larger vehicles.
In its new proposal, Anthony Lakes notes that over a two-month period earlier this year, workers counted “over 43 RVs, trailers, and/or other large vehicles parking at or within a two-block radius of the proposed Visitor Center location” and that “there are currently 55 parking spaces, 40 of these allow for oversize vehicles,” within a one-block radius of the proposed visitors center.
The proposal also notes that Baker City is looking to pave a parking area it owns just east of Resort Street, near Central Park.
The Chamber’s proposal also references parking, nothing that the Campbell Street location has “ample parking for personal vehicles, RVs and motor coaches...”
The Anthony Lakes proposal counters that the Chamber doesn’t own the parking lot adjacent to the current visitors center.
Cutler said there has never been a conflict between parking for guests at the Sunridge Inn, on the north side of the parking lot, and parking used by people coming to the visitors center.
The Chamber proposes an operating schedule from May 1 through Oct. 31 or Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. From Nov. 1 through April 30, the schedule would be Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Anthony Lakes proposes a schedule from May through September, of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and from Oct. 1 through April 30 a minimum of five days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Anthony Lakes proposes an annual budget of $69,574 if it is required to create a new website, or $59,574 if it can use the current Travel Baker County website.
The Chamber’s proposed annual budget is $87,575. Cutler said that includes $7,600 in payroll expenses that in the previous contract the Chamber paid alone.