The state-owned Park and Ride facility at Exit 49, in Castle Rock, where city officials are hoping to build a new Visitor Center with assistance from Big Idea funding (local lodging taxes pooled to help municipalities in Cowlitz County).
The Castle Rock City Council has approved a proposal to use of $67,676 in "Big Idea" funding for local tourism projects, including a new Visitor Center at Exit 49, and are now awaiting a go-ahead from other participating municipalities.
When the Big Idea, also known as the Cowlitz Regional Tourism Development Partnership Program, was first proposed in 2011, the goal had been to pool a portion of lodging tax dollars from Woodland, Kalama, Kelso, Longview, Castle Rock and Cowlitz County and entrust the funds to a Big Idea Board, who would then allot the entire sum to a different participating entity each year for six years.
However, according to Castle Rock City Attorney Frank Randolph, the State Auditor’s Office has recently insisted the legislative bodies of each participating entity approve the transfer of lodging tax dollars directly to the receiving entity rather than through the Big Idea Board, allowing for a new step in the process Castle Rock is currently waiting to overcome.
While Randolph has cautioned city officials this new level of oversight could allow an opportunity for one or multiple of the six entities to opt out suddenly, either due to objections against a specific proposal or due to a lack of interest in participating, County Commissioner Jim Misner, who has spearheaded the Big Idea, said he feels these needs for approval are simply procedural and he does not expect Castle Rock’s proposal will be met with resistance.
Castle Rock’s current proposal includes the use of $47,000 toward a new Visitor Center, $10,676 for repairs to the Exhibit Hall, which currently houses the Visitor Center, $4,500 to purchase and install flower baskets on Front Ave., $3,000 for new lighting for the Festival of Lights, and $2,500 for landscaping projects at Exits 49 and 48.
Public Works Director Dave Vorse said it is his expectation additional funding may also be made available through grants and donated resources and labor, including a possible $148,000 grant from the Rural Economic Development Fund.
"We’re the first city out of the group, so far, that has actually taken the money and is trying to multiply it," he said of the others participating in the Big Idea, of which Woodland and Kalama have already received disbursements in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
The other participating cities have indicated they would like to have their legal counsel examine the amended interlocal agreement, reflecting the new expectations of the Auditor’s Office, prior to presenting Castle Rock’s proposal to their respective city councils for approval. Misner has said he feels confident final approval of the funds will be given within the coming weeks stating, as a representative of the County Commission, Cowlitz County is prepared to support Castle Rock’s proposal.