December 18, 2014 11:00:07 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Members of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau convened for the last time this year Monday in a decidedly festive setting.
Punch and treats were spread across the board table to celebrate the approach of the Christmas holiday, setting a happy tone that would be matched, for the most part, in the board's discussions during a 40-minute meeting.
Board chairman Dewitt Hicks opened by describing his view of Saturday's Columbus Christmas Parade from the CVB's double-decker bus, which rolled in the parade. Noting that some cities have sought to down-play the religious elements of the season, Hicks noted with pride hearing the Christmas hymns and seeing the churches and buildings along the parade route decked out in holiday decorations, marveling at the decorations at Mississippi University for Women and ending with the large, illuminated cross near the Columbus Fire Station on College Street.
"If you weren't able to go this year, I certainly hope you attend next year," Hicks said. "It was a magnificent place to be."
CVB director Nancy Carpenter's report was equally optimistic, noting that the Mississippi Development Authority had awarded Visit Columbus with grants of $43,000.
"We're thrilled by that because the MDA awarded $722,000 in grants to 34 applicants," Carpenter said. "That works out to an average of $21,000 for each applicant, so you can see that we were very successful in making our case."
Carpenter said the grants, which require matching funds from the CVB, will go toward six planned projects.
Carpenter also noted with pleasure the progress being made on the Trotter Convention Center.
"I visited last week and it was the first time I had been down there for three weeks," she said. "It's amazing the progress they have made."
Board member Mark Castleberry said he was particularly impressed with the improvements made to the venue for entertainment events.
"The sounds system and lighting are really high quality," Castleberry said. "It will have a real stage, too, and when you consider all they have done with the lighting and sound system, it's going to be pretty hard to beat as an entertainment venue."
The board also reviewed the CVB's Pilgrimage brochure. Carpenter said 25,000 of the brochures were ready for distribution. In addition, she said her office had more than 600 calls to church groups throughout the region to get the word out about the Pilgrimage, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary this spring.
"We have...19 homes committed, the most we have ever had," Hicks noted.
The board considered a clearance report for the Southside/Townsend Park Festival which would release the balance of $5,000 awarded to the festival by the CVB.
Board member Rissa Lawrence said the report left her with questions as to whether the event was really worth the CVB's financial support.
"Looking at their numbers, they spent only $904 dollars on advertising, which is 4.2 percent of their budget," Lawrence said. "They spent $11,700 on entertainment, which comes out to 54 percent. The only revenue they brought in came from five vendors. It makes me question whether or not this event is really something that is trying to bring people into town."
Carpenter, who had recommended that the board approve the festivals' report, pointed out that the event was classified as a Quality of Life event rather than a Tourism event.
"When we made the changes, we didn't hold the Quality of Life events to the old requirements," Carpenter said. "With these, we don't stipulate that they spend a certain amount of advertising, for example."
"I realize that," Lawrence said. "But there should be some requirements."
"It's not that we don't have requirements," Carpenter said. "But we don't have the same stipulations about how the money is spent. We have requirements. This group met them. In fact, we had three other groups that wanted to ask for funding, but they hadn't met the requirements. That's why we have one of these on the agenda today and not four."
Nadia Colom made a motion to approve the clearance report. Whirllie Byrd provided a second. The motion passed with only Lawrence dissenting.
The board then voted to adjourn.
The next CVB board meeting is Jan. 26.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]