Editor's Note: This story clarifies an earlier report concerning the St. Helens City Council discussion about tourism. We are glad to set the record straight.
St. Helens city councilors are still in favor of keeping Tina Curry, primary contractor with E2C Corp., as the city’s contracted events planner. This was one topic of discussion at a special session meeting to discuss St. Helens tourism on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Mayor Rick Scholl and city councilors Doug Morten, Keith Locke and Ginny Carlson seemed to be in favor of keeping the city’s contract with E2C Corp., the tourism consultancy agency St. Helens has contracted in the past that Tina Curry owns and operates.
Councilor Stephen Topaz was not in favor of keeping E2C Corp as the contracted consultancy agency. Before meeting’s end, a tense argument erupted between Scholl, Morten and Topaz regarding tourism in St. Helens in general and Curry’s contract in particular.
The council eventually decided at the end of the meeting to put one item in particular on the next agenda, which is the lease agreement for the Masonic Building that the city was discussing to lease out for tourism purposes.
Several stakeholders were present in addition to the city council, which included John Walsh, City Administrator; Tina Curry and approximately 20 business owners in St. Helens who were members of the audience.
Discussed at the meeting was the history of tourism in St. Helens, current programs and activities that E2C Corp. operates, tourism funding and potential programs Curry would like to initiate in the city.
Curry currently operates under an automatically-renewed contract. Mayor Rick Scholl stated during the meeting that Curry was currently not operating under a contract, but Walsh later corrected that statement in a phone interview with The Chronicle.
In March of 2019, city councilors agreed to a contract renewal with E2C Corp., retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019, set to be automatically renewed in one-year increments. Prior to that, Curry had been put under contract in 2017, which was extended to December of 2018.
Three audience members spoke during the meeting, all speaking positively about Curry’s performance.
“I think you have underestimated that we’re number three in Halloween,” Brady Preheim said, referring to a survey that the Martha Stewart corporation initiated. “Whatever magic Tina can do, I don’t see how we can say no.”
Jennifer Pugsley, real estate agent and owner of 50 Plaza Square, which was recently renovated, also spoke in favor of keeping Curry.
“I’ve been selling real estate for more than 40 years, and I came here because of tourism,” Pugsley said.
Topaz argued that the tourism industry should not be the primary focus of economic development in the city.
“We need heavyweight jobs. We have to be a little realistic that people walking in, spending a little bit of money and then leaving is not the same as doing business,” Topaz said.
Councilor Doug Morten disagreed. He referred back to the history of the tourism committee, in place before the city contracted an events coordinator, and said that after the Boise Mill shut down, the question was what the city was going to do. He said “tourism” was a dirty word back then, but then became necessary for the city to pursue, and became successful.
An argument was then borne out of the question of whether it would be completely by-the-rulebook to re-hire Tina Curry. Topaz said doing so would be a back-door deal.
“It’s not a back-door deal,” Morten said, sounding frustrated.
Topaz reiterated his disagreement.
Scholl then said to Topaz, “I don’t know why you even ran to be a councilor, because you don’t like anything we do in this city.”
To which Topaz replied, “I ran because I didn’t like how the city was being run.”
One of the major topics of discussion that was later put on an agenda for a city council work session on Jan. 15 is the exact terms of a lease that the city would initiate with the Masonic Building. The city is proposing to lease the building at $3,000 per month for tourism purposes, with E2C Corp. producing events in the space.
Curry is hoping to bring the haunted mansion, currently stationed behind Plymouth Pub restaurant, to the bottom floor of the Masonic Lodge and to bring an Escape Room and a business incubator to the top floor, where businesses that want to move downtown can be stationed for up to six weeks rent-free.
Also discussed was means of financing the lease. Walsh explained that because this expense stands alone, and was not anticipated in the budget, an interfund loan will be established for the time being to pay the expense of the lease. The revenue to pay back the loan will be available come Halloween time, when revenue comes in.