Baton Rouge tourism officials say occupancy tax needed ‘to compete with other cities’

While Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s proposed tax for transportation projects attracts much of the attention in Baton Rouge, local tourism leaders are pitching their own tax that they say will help the city bring more events to downtown.

Visit Baton Rouge CEO Paul Arrigo and Michael Day, general manager of the Raising Cane’s River Center, urged business owners and other officials at this morning’s Downtown Development District meeting  to spread the word about their proposed 2% hotel occupancy tax, which is on the November ballot. They stressed the tax would be paid for mostly by visitors.

“We need to compete with other cities, that’s why we need this tax,” Arrigo said.

The hotel tax went before voters last year but was rejected along with several other tax measures, including one similar to Broome’s Better Transportation and Roads proposal. The tax would generate an estimated $1.3 million annually for Visit Baton Rouge and $1.3 million for upgrades to the Raising Cane’s River Center.

The additional 2% occupancy tax would bump the rate at Baton Rouge hotels from 14% to 16%.

Orleans Parish levies a 14% tax on hotels, according to the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, and the money is split between six different entities. The city of New Orleans also levies an additional charge of 50 cents to $2 per room per night, depending on the size of the hotel, and certain hotels also charge a 1.75% “tourism assessment.”

Ben Blackwell, president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association, says “nine times out of ten,” visitors don’t notice the tax rate or make decisions on where to travel based on it. The rate hike would put Baton Rouge in line with cities like New Orleans, he adds.

“When people are looking at rates they’re looking at the advertised rates online,” Blackwell says. “(Hotels) understand this is a necessity to help us compete.”

The River Center would get upgrades to the ballroom and theater, Day said, on top of other upgrades paid for with the $3.87 million Raising Cane’s is paying over 10 years for naming rights. Day says the River Center is behind venues like the Cajundome in Lafayette in keeping up with upgrades.

—Sam Karlin

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