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Candice Brown of Walnut Creek, right, goes shopping with her mother Wanda Ladd visiting from Chicago in downtown Broadway Plaza where displays show warm weather fashion and customers are dressed for winter in downtown Walnut Creek, Calif., on Monday, May 24, 2010.(Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

Napa has the wineries, San Francisco the Golden Gate. Though Walnut Creek may not have that same kind of draw, city leaders hope the city will soon become a tourist destination as well.

To get Walnut Creek on that map, the City Council on Tuesday is set to take the first steps to create a tourism business improvement district.

Walnut Creek could levy fees on its five hotels, including Holiday Inn Express and the Marriott Hotel. The money collected would be used to promote the hotels and create marketing programs focused on tourism. The fee would be $2 per room per night for hotels with 100 or more sleeping rooms and $1.50 for hotels with fewer than 100 rooms. Future hotels would not be assessed the fees in their first fiscal year, but would after that.

With five hotels, the city anticipates the district would raise about $300,000 a year.

Jay Hoyer, president of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, has worked for a couple of years to form such a district. He said the hotels are on board.

"The hotel folks need more ability to market, and this is one way they can generate that," he said.

The council will have another meeting Dec. 21 to hear protests. If protests are received from hotels which would pay 50 percent or more of the assessment, then no district will be formed.

Hoyer said it's hard to be specific about exactly how the money would be used, but that marketing -- specifically on the Web -- would likely be the main focus.

This kind of marketing would help peg Walnut Creek for events for which it should already be a destination, such as tennis tournaments and weddings, Hoyer said. Hotels could provide guides about what's going on in Walnut Creek. And while the money would be generated at the hotels, players such as the Downtown Business Association and the Lesher Center would all be included, according to Hoyer -- the idea being to package all of Walnut Creek. The No. 1 and No. 3 reasons people decide on a travel destination are, respectively, shopping and the culinary choices. Those, Hoyer said, Walnut Creek has in spades.

"I think there is an opportunity here," he said. "I am not saying that we have Disneyland or the ocean, but there are various (draws) for leisure travelers."

This seems to go along with the city's push to identify and promote its "brand." Last year, the Downtown Business Association hired a consultant to come and give tips -- everything from new signs to closing off streets -- to help Walnut Creek grow as a destination.

Tamara Mims, director of marketing for Diablo Mountain Inn on Mt. Diablo Boulevard, said they endorse the new district. Many hotels managed by the same company are within similar districts.

"We are completely thrilled when there is any opportunity to promote tourism to our area," she said. "Obviously, it benefits everyone in the city, not just the hotels."

Mims said her inn's occupancy rate is better this year than last, and she doesn't worry that a few extra dollars in taxes will deter guests from booking rooms. She pointed out that Walnut Creek's transient occupancy tax (at 8.5 percent) is one of the lowest around.

But Mims said Walnut Creek needs to be better marketed to attract out-of-town visitors.

"It's not a destination quite yet, but it is a darling town and so many great things to do," she said.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.

IF YOU GO
The Walnut Creek City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1666 N. Main St.