Tourism concerns score with city officials

by Anne Swenson

The clock on the back wall of Ely’s City Hall council chambers still reads Central Standard Time, but the daylight of the tourism season was the reality on Tuesday.<BR><BR>While the birds of spring chirped outside the open window and leaves were ready to unfurl in the backyard of Bare Bones Studio, the council addressed tourism-related issues. <BR><BR>First at bat was Paul Pengal from the Ely Little League who pitched for a change in the water charge for maintaining the city owned field. He said that the water bill had been $250 in the past but last year had jumped “to over $800.” He requested an exception for water used in watering the field, noting that the city waters grass in other parks and at the cemetery. <BR><BR>Pengal reminded the council of the economic benefit to the city from Ely Little League hosting past district tournaments and the opportunity to host next year’s state Little League tournament. The field has gained a high reputation for its field and facilities, surpassing other fields in the district.<BR><BR>Dick Pucel of the Public Utilities Commission said he would favor the request “if this isn’t going to set a precedence” for other groups.<BR><BR>A motion passed to have the PUC reconsider the charge on the basis that it is city property.<BR><BR>City attorney Larry Klun later stood at the podium and the question of city property arose again. This time it was Klun’s report on the city’s relationship with the Ely Chamber of Commerce which occupies the log cabin at 1600 East Sheridan Street. The land and building are owned by the City and maintained by the Chamber.<BR><BR>Originally a Bicentennial Committee project for 1976 so that the Ely Chamber of Commerce would have increased visibility, in recent years the city has looked to the Chamber as a possible financial resource rather than a tourism asset.<BR><BR>The 50-page report attorney Klun made available to the council on Tuesday made several recommendations as to how the Chamber should be operated in his opinion. He stated the bed tax money should be used to operate the building and pay personnel. Additionally he wants the Chamber to conduct a raffle to raise money so they can pay the city.<BR><BR>Klun said, “I’m not saying these things to be difficult but to get the facts out there.”<BR><BR>Mayor Frank Salerno said that he’d like to clear up the whole matter “in order to maintain the excellent relationship we have had with the Chamber.”<BR><BR>“It’s ironic that we started the negotiation to clarify the lease in 2002,” Klun said. He said that during the past 30 years “the city has historically supported the Chamber,” adding that the city had given the Chamber $17,250 to fix up the building in 1976.<BR><BR>That statement was countered by a former member of the Bicentennial Committee in the audience who noted that it was the Bicentennial Committee which had obtained the grant for the building and that Chamber members and other volunteers had been instrumental in the additional expense required to complete the project.<BR><BR>Salerno said, “It’s time for us to move forward” with council business and acknowledged “the value of tourism and economic development.” <BR><BR>A few more questions were raised and answered. Klun said, “I think it’s just a matter of getting information... It’s as simple as that.”<BR><BR>It was Salerno, however, who got in the final words in the first two hours of this session. <BR><BR>“I want to put this to sleep. If there are still questions about ownership, there’s little sense belaboring this. We’d better put an end to this crap and get on with business.”<BR><BR>He added, “If there are any other questions, I wish you’d keep them to yourself... We’ve got the tourism season upon us and that’s what we should be concentrating on.”