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Weather takes bite from February sales tax revenue in NWA

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Sales tax revenue dipped 3.5% across Northwest Arkansas’ four largest cities in February. Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville cumulatively received more than $4.894 million in sales tax revenue, compared to $5.075 million a year ago.

All four cities posted lower revenue numbers, citing snow and ice throughout the month for the less foot-traffic and a dip in overall sales. Weather has been blamed for rough retail and restaurant sales as well as declining home and auto purchases. The same cities reported tough year-over-year comparisons in hospitality collections for December, which put downward pressure on their fourth quarter reports.

February revenue reflects sales tax collected in December, creating a two-month lag in the reporting. Each of these cites collect a 2% sales tax. One percent is devoted to bond repayment and the remaining 1% goes into the cities’ general fund. This report reflects the latter 1%.

February 2014 Revenue
Fayetteville: $1.713 million, down 2.4%
Rogers: $1.409 million, down 3.8%
Springdale: $879,035, down 4%
Bentonville: $893,260, down 4.6%

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, said it’s tough to quantify the direct impact to the retail sector from the eight named winter storms already in the books, when there’s still four more weeks of winter expected for much of the country. Kleinhenz expects some retailers will make up some of the losses when spring does arrive. Not only have consumers been snowed in more this year, but bitterly cold temperatures have pushed utility bills higher and that is curbing spending habits as more income is going to heating costs.

FORWARD OPTIMISM
Northwest Arkansas city officials said 2014 is off to a sluggish start, but they expect to see revenue pick up this spring and summer. Rogers is looking forward to the July opening of the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion.

“We see the AMP as an overnight destination when some of the really big acts take the stage. That is going to mean more folks drive here, eat dinner, shop and spend the night, all which they do within a stone’s throw of the new music venue,” said Allyson Dyer, executive director for Visit Rogers.

At the same time Springdale is looking forward to the new Walmart Supercenter at Elm Springs Road and Interstate 540, which is slated to open later this year.

Kalene Griffith, director for the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said last week that the spring calendar for tours and groups visiting the city continues to fill up. She said bus tours are one segment that have exploded in growth since the opening of Crystal Bridges.

“Before 2011 we might have had 15 bus tours a year. Now it’s more than 100 bus tours and we are getting more and more interest from international groups. This summer there is a group out of Ireland, that is coming through Bentonville on a multiple city bus tour,” Griffith said.

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She said about 50 sporting events also are planned for this year intended to bring hundreds of people to the region for the day or perhaps the weekend.

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