When the Olathe-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics was looking for a national championship site, the group didn't have to look farther than its own back yard.
"We have schools in Canada, California, Kentucky, Texas," said Kelly Noonan, an NAIA development assistant. "We like a central location with easy travel in and out."
Enter Lawrence. The NAIA conducted its national swimming and diving championships at the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center this year and will do so again this March.
It's "a great facility for any type of event," Noonan said.
Attracting groups such as the NAIA is the goal of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. The organization is funded through the transient guest tax, or bed tax, which every visitor pays when staying in a Lawrence hotel.
"It's a way to help promote the city without charging the people" in Lawrence, said Judy Billings, bureau director.
As part of the 2004 budget negotiations, the Lawrence City Commission is looking to boost funding to the bureau by raising the bed tax to 5 percent from 4 percent.
"The last time the tax was raised was 1985," Billings said. "But our operating costs keep going up."
Economic downturns and travel jitters in the aftermath of 9-11 have hit Lawrence hard. Days Inn manager Kate Kelly said Billings and her team were invaluable in keeping the city's hotels competitive.
"They can reach so many more people than I can" Kelly said. "Plus, they're working for everyone instead of just one property."
According to numbers released by the City Manager's Office, Lawrence has one of the lowest bed tax rates in the state. Among other major Kansas cities, only Hays has a similar rate. Overland Park, Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka all have 6 percent bed taxes; Wichita charges 7 percent.
"In stacking up against our competitors ... we'll still be in the middle," Billings said. A 5 percent surcharge would bring Lawrence into line with Manhattan, Junction City and Salina.
The move is expected to bring an extra $100,000 to the bureau's coffers. The bureau now has a budget of about $560,000, mostly funded by the tax. Billings plans to use the money generated by the higher tax to increase national advertising in hopes of enticing more organizations such as the NAIA to have their events in Lawrence.
A recent fast-pitch softball championship in the city brought more than $1 million into the area in just four days, according to bureau estimates.
The city can't use bed tax dollars to fund other city programs, but the effect may be the same. City commissioners are hoping the guest tax increase will lead to more visitors, boosting flat sales tax receipts and help city revenues keep up with growing expenditures.