Crawford gives presentation

Olean Common Council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, speaks Tuesday during a virtual meeting of the council.

OLEAN — Marketing Olean for work and play — and finding ways to pay for the effort — should be among the priorities this year, the Common Council’s president said Tuesday.

During a presentation to the Common Council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday, Council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, asked his fellow aldermen to step up to the plate for the city’s future as he detailed a need for more strategic planning and a revived marketing and branding push by the city.

While the city has offered up many new capital projects in recent years, city leaders need to ask some philosophical questions, Crawford said.

“I stop and ask — who are we? Where are we going, and what do we want to become?” Crawford said. “I truly think for our investments to work, I believe that we have to strengthen our city’s identity and support initiatives formalizing this vision.”

A large part of that needs to be in marketing and branding.

“Together, I believe we can reshape the marketing efforts, the branding efforts, for Olean to show all the wonderful things Olean’s done and is doing.”

He also challenged aldermen to step up with ideas to help in the effort, and noted he hopes to create a task force tapping into city residents, officials and other agencies to help plan the city’s marketing and planning efforts.

But at the same time, the city should not stop its efforts to revitalize not only downtown, but parks, side streets and neighborhoods.

“Revitalization is more than just roundabouts,” Crawford said. “If we improve our neighborhoods and downtown equally, then we can improve Olean.”

MAYOR BILL AIELLO suggested revisiting the idea of a bed tax to help fund such a marketing effort.

“I think that can be a huge help, helping us fund community development,” Aiello said, noting the expenses to marketing and branding efforts. “We need funding to do these things — to encourage people to come back here, to live here.”

Cattaraugus County has collected bed taxes since 2004 equal to 5% of the cost to rent a room for the evening. In December, officials reported the county collected $1.02 million in bed tax revenue in 2019. Of that, 11% was from Olean — equal to about $111,000 for the county.

While most counties have some level of bed tax, some communities in the state have their own bed taxes — such as Watertown’s 3% tax.

Aiello said he estimates — depending on tax rate, an expected rebound in travel after the pandemic and other factors — that the city could realistically expect somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

The mayor noted he has already spoken to the area’s representatives in Albany for support, as a local bed tax would require a state law.

Alderman Linda Witte, D-Ward 1, noted that there is a misconception that locals would have to pay — a misconception that scuttled a similar proposal several years ago.

“They didn’t understand it’s not our residents paying it — it’s visitors paying it,” Witte said. “I think we’re losing out on a lot of funding we could be recouping. … I think it’s a great time to get our New York state representatives on board.”

Crawford said he will put the proposal on the agenda for further discussion, hoping that any funds raised are set aside specifically for tourism, community development and planning purposes.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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