- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha City Council is considering a proposal to provide subsidies for groups bringing conventions to the area in a way that would get around rules giving the public and the City Council oversight on how tax money is spent.

The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2gYIQna ) reports that the plan calls for creating a nonprofit that would enable the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to get around those rules. Bureau Director Keith Backsen said that would help Omaha’s negotiating power because a group wouldn’t be able to compare the subsidy it received with the subsidy provided to another group.

The nonprofit would also prevent other cities from figuring out how much Omaha subsidizes conventions, added Steve Curtiss, the city’s finance director.

“The last thing you want to do is end up giving out this information and ending up harming ourselves and our citizens and have to overpay,” Curtiss said.

Councilman Franklin Thompson said he’s excited about the proposal but concerned about the lack of transparency. He said he wants to potentially put the proposal vote on hold in order to further study the plan.

The city currently has more than $1 million set aside for incentives. Omaha paid about $90,000 in incentives to six entities in 2016, Backsen said.

Under the proposed plan, money would move into a separate fund when a group commits to a convention, and the nonprofit would give out the money. In order to quality for an incentive, an organization’s convention must have a turnout high enough for 500 hotel rooms spread over at least two hotels to be filled on peak nights.

Backsen said the nonprofit arrangement would speed up subsidy offers because the city would not have to take weeks to go through the approval process. Omaha is different from other cities in that its convention and visitors bureau is a city department, not a private entity.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com


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