MERRIAM, Kan. — Hotel owners in Merriam could soon get a helping hand from the city.

On Monday the Merriam City Council voted 7-0 to allocate $1 million to support a grant program to revamp the city’s aging hotel stock. 

Currently there are four hotels in Merriam, all built between 1982 and 1998. 

Through the hotel grant, the city would reimburse hotel owners between $5,000 and $250,000 for renovations made on their property. The grant would require a 50% match from the property owner with a minimum contribution of $10,000. 

To qualify, a hotel owner must be up to date on all taxes, have a valid business license and ensure the property is compliant with all city codes. 

The money can be used to make upgrades to existing hotel rooms, refresh common areas like the lobby or swimming pool, or to make exterior renovations to the building.

Funds to support the one-time grant will be transferred from the city’s General Fund to the Transient Guest Fund. 

Assistant City Administrator Jennifer Jones-Lacy said the funds would roll over annually into the next year’s budget until the money is depleted. 

The council also voted 7-0 to increase the transient guest tax (TGT) from 7% to 8%. 

Merriam TGT compared to other Johnson County cities.

“An additional 1% will yield between $43,000 and $65,000 [in revenue] depending on hotel sales,” Jones-Lacy said. 

Revenue from the TGT supports the Visitor’s Bureau, the farmers market and special community events like the Turkey Creek Festival. Despite overall support for the tax increase, Councilmembers David Neal and Bruce Kaldahl expressed some concern. 

“We’re raising it because we can. I really struggle with any justification for it. It’s probably OK,” Kaldahl said.

“When I go to a hotel and I look at the bill when I pay for it, this is just one of those things that irritates the you-know-what out of me. Maybe everybody, but I think the general public has become numb to it, which doesn’t make it right, but at the end of the day I guess sometimes you have to vote for things you don’t like.” 

“I have a bit of difficulty with this because I don’t think that all the things we are paying for out of this fund need to come out of this, but I’m going to go with staff’s recommendation,” Neal said. 

In addition to the tax increase, the council also voted to amend the city’s charter ordinance to allow for the transfer of money from the city’s General Fund into the TGT fund. However, any future transfer of funds will require additional approval from the city council. 

Hotel owners receiving grant funding will be required to provide benchmark data like the average daily room rate and occupancy rate for the year prior and two years after receiving the funds.

The city would not make payments to the property owner until the renovations are complete. City staff recommend requiring the work be complete within a year of the owner receiving the grant. 

The grant program is scheduled to begin in 2023 and will be managed through the Visitor’s Bureau. The new TGT rate will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.