The Daily Star
---- — As tourists, visitors to Cooperstown were given a new suggested roadway to get there from points east in 1988. It also wouldn’t be long before once they did get to Cooperstown and Otsego County that they’d be paying just a little bit more for their lodging, in the form of a bed tax.
Throughout 1987, after a New York Thruway bridge collapsed over the Schoharie Creek in Montgomery County, then state Assemblyman Anthony Casale started using an alternate route to get to Albany from his home in Herkimer, U.S. Route 20.
What was then called the Glimmerglass Opera had opened in June as a new attraction in the town of Springfield. It dawned on Casale that reaching Glimmerglass and Cooperstown would be so much easier from Albany and eastern points by using Route 20, instead of the usual pathway of Interstate 88 to near Oneonta, and then state routes 28 and 80.
Casale took his idea to the state Department of Transportation, and it agreed Route 20 was the best route to get to Cooperstown. New signs were posted at Exit 25A of the Thruway and the westbound Duanesburg exit of I-88 during 1988.
Tourism in Cooperstown and Otsego County became a bigger business in 1988, requiring a larger budget for promotion and advertising, as well as staffing of a director and secretary for Otsego County’s Tourism Bureau.
By late 1987, a 1 percent to 2 percent lodging tax had been thoroughly researched to increase revenues for tourism, and the idea was introduced to the general public in December.
Each lodge owner by law would be required to turn the revenue generated from the tax over to a collection center, and would be used specifically for tourism promotion. Opinions varied, according to reports from The Daily Star of Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1987.
“I’m not looking for help from the tourism bureau,” said Ted Ott, owner of the Worthington House, a Cooperstown bed-and-breakfast. Ott felt his business and the area were doing well from tourism and did not need more promotion.
Esther Miller, then general manager of the Holiday Inn of Oneonta, said: “As a hotel operator I am in favor (of the tax) if the money is directed back into promoting the area. That’s the only way I’m in favor of it.”
April 1988 became a momentous month for tourism in Otsego County. Doris Holdorf was hired as the Tourism Bureau’s first executive director, and began her work on June 6. It was also the month that the Otsego County Board of Representatives approved a 2 percent local bed tax to support the local tourism industry.
It was estimated that the bed tax would generate about $200,000 a year in Otsego County. Upon passage by the Board of Representatives, the measure went to the state Legislature to obtain the authority to enact the tax.
Lodging owners fought vigorously against the proposed tax. The Star reported on Friday, April 29, that more than 30 people came to protest the tax at an informational meeting on Thursday. Opponents wondered why the county’s campgrounds were excluded from the tax, a debate that has resurfaced in recent years.
In October 1988 the Otsego County Tourism Bureau got a bit of advice in marketing from the tourism director in Saratoga, Michael J. Mendrick.
In a Star article from Oct. 27, Mendrick said: “If this county is to fulfill its potential as a tourism destination, it will need an across-the-board commitment from its private sector and from its public sector to support the effort … . In the tourism market, there’s nothing truer than it takes money to make money.”
Mendrick pointed out that Rochester’s tourism bureau had a $1.2 million budget, Albany had about $800,000 and Utica $400,000. Saratoga was running on $148,000, “which barely gets us into the ballgame,” Mendrick said. Saratoga had enacted a 1 percent city tax for tourism that year.
The 2 percent bed tax in Otsego County was finally enacted, as Local Law No. 5 of 1989. It was raised to 4 percent in 2002.
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City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.