Our View: With drama over, assess tourism priorities

February 11, 2011 6:58:00 AM

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It appears city and county leaders have found common ground over the makeup of the Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. The council voted in a special meeting to follow the lead of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, with each body appointing two industry-specific members and one at-large member. 

 

The six-member board will eventually be moved up to nine members. The city and county will each appoint another at-large member, and the mayor and president of the board of supervisors will agree on the ninth member. Expanding the board to nine members will require the Legislature to approve a local and private bill that Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, will introduce later this session. 

 

Mayor Robert Smith and Board President Harry Sanders brokered the details of the new ordinance. The council had initially voted to make all of its members at-large appointments, to the consternation of Sanders, who threatened to attempt to eliminate the tourism board''s funding. The board is funded by a 2 percent tax on restaurant sales, and brought in $1.4 million last year. 

 

In this game of chicken, both sides swerved. Sanders, who wanted a representative chosen by the Columbus Lowndes Development Link, gave in on that idea. The council, which wanted all at-large appointments, agreed to industry-specific ones. 

 

Smith, Sanders and Link CEO Joe Higgins, who also helped broker the deal, should all be commended for putting egos aside to settle on a new ordinance governing the CVB. 

 

We hope this brings an end to the drama over the makeup of the board, because there are larger issues it''s facing -- mainly, how it should be spending its tax dollars. 

 

We urge the new tourism board to commission a study of the economic impact of the dollars it''s spent in the past. Are we getting the most bang for our buck?  

 

Some council members and supervisors run neighborhood festivals funded, to a significant degree, by the CVB. That the council is appointing members to the same board that individual members are withdrawing thousands of dollars from, is a questionable practice. The new tourism board should weigh whether some of these events actually bring in outsiders. 

 

We also renew our call for the board to re-examine the role it plays in the community. While visitors also pay the 2-percent tax, the vast majority of eating out that happens in this town is done by those who live here. We''re the ones paying the tax, and we have a right to have a say in how it''s spent. How do we all want this money allocated? The CVB board may find that its own priorities aren''t in line with what many of us want for a better community. 

 

We suggest that the new CVB board look to Tupelo, which is undertaking just such a study. The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported this week that the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau has hired an outside firm to look at the demographics of its visitors and study its in-house programs, to better target its funds. 

 

We think such a study would be money well spent.