The Press Democrat: June 20th, 2010

IS ROHNERT PARK THE NEXT TOURIST MECCA?

By Jeremy Hay (excerpt)

Two go kart racers on the track

Go Kart Racing in Rohnert Park

It may be the Friendly City, but Rohnert Park does not spring to mind when one thinks of Wine Country tourist destinations. A suburban bedroom community, it lacks a shopping-oriented downtown or a historic center.

“I think most people look at us right off the 101 and they see Chili’s and fast food, but they don’t really understand what’s a street or two over,” said Vice Mayor Gina Belforte. Casting a longing gaze on greater visitor-related income, city and business leaders are mounting a determined effort to attract more tourists and business visitors. They want to sell Rohnert Park as a enjoyable place that is central to all major local attractions, including other, more-visited towns.

Tourist- and visitor-related revenues through taxes from the city’s seven hotels are the city’s third-largest source of income, said John Dunn, the interim city manager. This year, occupancy tax revenue is projected to be $1.65 million, down from $1.72 million the year before. “We view (tourism) as a form of economic development and of course as a way to help our local businesses,” Dunn said.

According to Tourism Bureau surveys, Zahner said, the average visitor to Sonoma County spends $291 a day. Whether that comes through business-related visitors or tourists, “at the end of the day it’s same thing,” Zahner said. “They’re all spending the same money, a head in a bed is a head in a bed.” To corral those dollars, the city needs to sell its suburban amenities to prospective visitors, Mayor Pam Stafford said.

Besides public swimming pools and parks, “we actually have a lot of fun activities,” she said. “We have a bowling alley, we have a roller-skating rink, we have Driven Raceway (an electric go-kart track). So we’re trying to promote that part — we’re a fun destination too.”

To help spotlight such views, the city is poised to renew its annual $50,000 contract with the Tourism Bureau to market Rohnert Park and is also working with the Chamber of Commerce. “We have the 50th anniversary coming for Rohnert Park, so we want to use that as a launching pad to showcase Rohnert Park to the world,” said chamber president Amy Ahanotu. He said that an advertising campaign to travel agencies and travel magazines is one strategy being considered. Ahanotu acknowledged the city faces challenges in promoting itself, but said strategies are being planned to surmount them. “We do not have the typical downtown, however we are working on promoting the civic center,” Ahanotu said, referring to a plaza that the city opened last year in front of its new police station and library.

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