CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Hospitality Association, which represents the area’s hotels and motels, on Monday sent a letter to the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, formally denouncing the Chamber’s reallocation of lodging tax revenue to support the Cullman County Board of Education’s (CCBOE) proposed sports complex development first known as “Project X.” Monday night, association representative and Hampton Inn General Manager Tabatha Smothers addressed the Cullman City Council, reading the letter, and calling for the lodging tax and Cullman Tourism Board to be separated from the Chamber.
On March 19, CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette announced that Project X would be a $30 million sports complex to be built on the north side of the retail corridor along Alabama Highway 157 on Cullman’s north side. At the same event, Barnette announced that the Chamber had committed 2% of the lodging tax to the project (to go along with the monies from the recently imposed half-cent sales tax approved by the Cullman County Commission). According to Chamber President Leah Bolin at the time, the decision to support the project was made by vote of the Chamber Board.
Project X began stirring controversy almost immediately, with the municipalities of Hanceville and Baileyton formally opposing it, the public and the Hospitality Association questioning it and Wallace State Community College and Cullman City Schools canceling their memberships with the Chamber.
The Hospitality Association’s letter read:
Dear Ms. Leah Bolin and Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors:
We are writing this letter regarding your decision to reallocate funds generated by lodgings tax. We were profoundly disappointed in our lack of involvement and the concealment of plans with the Chamber’s lodging tax resolution. We feel this is a clear violation of trust and respect that we were promised by Leah years ago.
Due to the rash and wily decision that you have made concerning your commitment to Project X, we feel we have no other option than to publicly denounce your decision on the premises that hotel owners/general managers, the Tourism Board, the local elected leaders, and the State Legislators were not informed of this decision. It is our sincerest belief that the public funds generated by the lodging tax should have more accountability and that it not be liberally earmarked at the discretion of private organization without the involvement of the City and County Leadership, State Delegation, the established Tourism Board, and the Hospitality Association.
Moving forward, we are calling on our State Delegation to look into this issue and explore other methods to create more accountability and transparency with the Lodgings Tax. Also, we feel it is time for the Cullman Area Tourism Board of Directors, along with public lodgings tax funds be separated from the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce. Going forward, we feel it is imperative that we are involved before any long-term commitments of the lodging tax are granted. Such decisions should not be left up to the Chamber President or the Executive Committee alone.
The Cullman Hospitality Association
The members whose names appeared on the letter included:
- Herrish Patel, owner, Best Western
- Donna Scarborough, Regional Manager, Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn
- Nayan Patel, owner, Days Inn
- Charlie Patel, owner, Econo Lodge and Quality Inn
- Tabatha Smothers, General Manager; and Mayur Patel, owner, Hampton Inn
- Pritesh and Herrish Patel, owners, LaQuinta Inn
- Dhuval Patel, owner, Sleep Inn
On April 16, Bolin announced her resignation from the Chamber presidency, effective May 31.
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