December 7, 2011 11:33:00 AM
During a recent conversation with a friend about the Columbus Visitors' Bureau, an idea for a new project for the CVB came to us. The discussion started because we, like many, have been surprised by the numerous controversies surrounding the CVB this year.
The recent problems started when the CVB purchased a new office that required a second appraisal to justify its cost. Since then, Board members have been accused of ethical violations by outsiders and by each other. A meeting may have been held in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The Board elected two chairpersons in six months and controversially voted to hire Nancy Carpenter as director without advertising the position or considering other applicants.
As my friend and I discussed this, he suggested the root of the problem may be the CVB's current focus. The CVB's mission is to attract tourism to the area. The 2-percent sales tax on restaurants that funds its operation is supposed to be an investment that results in more people eating in Columbus, staying in our hotels and utilizing our businesses and services. Theoretically, the tax should generate economic activity that benefits everyone.
When I asked my friend to give me an example of a big idea that could bring these benefits, we brainstormed and, after a few false starts, agreed on one: A children's museum.
A children's museum appealed to us because it could be created to highlight our assets. It could include hands-on exhibits about the large industries in the county, such as exhibits about how to produce steel or information about helicopters or silicon. It could contain fun historical information about Tennessee Williams, the Queen City Hotel or Catfish Alley. The Tennessee-Tombigbee is currently planning a museum about the history of the waterway and transportation. It could possibly be convinced to combine efforts and make this a section of the children's museum.
Also, a museum attracts tourists and visitors. One need parents and schools across Mississippi have in common is activities for kids. If the museum is impressive and state of the art, it would give schools across the state a reason to take trips to Columbus. It would give parents, such as ones with kids playing on the new soccer fields, another activity to check out during their stay. Children in the area would also support and benefit from the museum.
An idea like this, of course, would take a significant amount of time and resources. The CVB currently appears to spend a big chunk of its money supporting local festivals. While I attend and enjoy most of these events, a quick Google search reveals that many cities across the state have similar festivals - blues music, food vendors and all. And, if we're being honest, we have to admit a lot of the faces at these events are locals, not tourists.
That's not to suggest the CVB stop supporting local festivals. Instead, the funding should be more closely tied to tourism. The CVB should analyze the receipts for restaurants and hotels during the days of events with other days throughout the year or previous years, and the festivals with the biggest tourist impact should get support. Make it about dollars, not politics.
All ideas should receive this same level of scrutiny. After review, the CVB may determine the children's museum is not feasible. I'm not naive or cocky enough to believe my friend and I thought up an unassailable idea in one night. The essential element of such a project, rather, is that it's big. It's transformative. Focusing on big ideas will help the Board avoid conflicts based on personalities and turf wars, and, in turn, keep the board out of controversy and concentrating on its mission: supporting tourism in Columbus.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.