Like many economic development groups, VisitPittsburgh needs to wear a lot of hats. It’s Pennsylvania’s second largest city’s tourism group, and it works to attract business events, festivals, vacationers and sports events. For the latter, the group believes the city needs a sports commission solely dedicated to attracting high-ticket sporting events. It proposes to create and fund such an organization through a proposed 1.25 percent increase in the Allegheny County hotel tax, which currently stands at seven percent. To this end, VisitPittsburgh, together with state Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Moon Township), plans to submit legislation to the Pennsylvania General Assembly within the next month.
Should the raise in hotel tax be approved – it would need to be voted on and passed by the state legislature -- the hike would generate approximately $6 million a year in extra revenue, with $1.5 million of that to be designated for the dedicated sports commission, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The rest of the money would be used to lure more conventions to town, to establish a dedicated source of funding for the Pittsburgh Film Office, to make community parks tournament-ready for sports-related events, and to help fund the Visit Monroeville tourism agency.
The ultimate goal of the sports commission, however, is to bring a Super Bowl to Pittsburgh, according to Craig Davis, CEO of VisitPittsburgh. The Steelers have asked the NFL for permission to bid on the 2023 Super Bowl, and at the present time, the bid is considered a long shot.
“If Pittsburgh is serious, and we are, about bringing a Super Bowl, then we’re going to have to have an entity that will drive that effort and that effort cannot be driven by the Steelers,” said Davis. “The NFL does not want the teams to drive that effort. The community has to and that community support has to come through a sports commission, in my opinion.”
Davis noted that many of the cities that have hosted Super Bowls have had sports commissions to lead the effort.
In a parallel move that would bolster the operations of the dedicated sports commission, Mayor Bill Peduto also announced a proposal to retrofit the city's convention center with a major hotel. Peduto has expressed support for the creation of the sports commission, as have both the Steelers and the Penguins. The proposed commission also has the backing of the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association. The price hike to hotel guests would be very modest: VisitPittsburgh has estimated that at current average hotel room rates, a tax increase of 1.25 percent would add $1.48 to most hotel bills.
Pittsburgh is currently enjoying an improvement in its reputation as a tourist city, particularly for younger Americans, as a recent New York Times feature article noted. TripAdvisor has named Pittsburgh a “Destination on the Rise,” and Travel+Leisure listed the city as one of the “Best Places to Travel.” In addition, Zagat recently labeled Pittsburgh the “Top Food City Of 2015.”