Municipal government assuming tourism duties

May 28, 2014

The City of Greenville will be taking over tourism-related duties this fall, after a split Greenville City Council voted to cut funding to the Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

Tuesday’s council meeting began with several people again asking the council to keep the hotel/motel tax money with the CVB, including Melva Hill, chair-elect of the chamber’s board of directors, who said she was confused as to why the council was taking the action.

Greenville Chamber President and CEO Brendon Payne appeared before the Greenville City Council Tuesday, prior to the council’s vote to move tourism-related activities under the direction of the City of Greenville.
Credit Brad Kellar

“Why is the reason for the transition continuing to transition?” Hill asked, noting that the chamber had addressed the council’s previously-voiced concerns about reporting and the salaries of chamber employees. Hill said she was especially perplexed over Mayor Steve Reid’s stated goal of wanting to give the CVB its own identity.

“I cannot see that being accomplished when the responsibilities of the convention and visitors bureau is to be overseen by the heads of three different departments,” Hill said.

Chamber President and CEO Brendon Payne took exception to comparisons made by the council to the cities of McKinney, Athens and Granbury, which had shifted their tourism duties in-house. Payne said that McKinney’s tourism budget is almost four times the City of Greenville’s , with three full-time employees; while the operators of Athens’s two largest tourist attractions “expressed dire concerns” to Payne about the move in their city and that a comparable CVB in Granbury does not exist.

“A comparison ... is just not realistic,” Payne said.

The council was also approached by representatives with Collin Street Bakery and other businesses, who urged the council not to make the decision.

Council member Dan Perkins also wondered why there was such a push to make a move, given all of the positive comments which local business leaders had presented concerning how the current system seems to be working for them.

“I just have not seen a reason yet to move it to the city,” Perkins said, also criticizing the goal of dividing the responsibility for promoting tourism in Greenville among Kimber Patterson, who serves as the Acting Director of Parks and Recreation and Venue Manager for Greenville Municipal Auditorium; Main Street Manager Doyle Dick and Public Relations Liaison Autumn Barton.

“I just don’t believe our plan to do it is an effective plan,” Perkins said.

Reid disagreed with Perkins’ claims that all of the comment had been against the proposal.

“I’ve heard from that many if not more that support me,” Reid said, as he provided a possible reason why they had not spoken during the meetings. “I think there is a little bit of fear of retribution to come up here and talk bad about them.”

Reid said he would be open to changing things back if it doesn’t work out.

“I just think we need to try an approach that gives the city its own identity,” Reid said. “It just seems like change around Greenville is pretty tough.”

Reid also expressed confidence that the department heads would be able to handle the additional workload, which will not come with an increase in pay.

“If they say they can do it, I have to trust them,” Reid said.

Council member James Evans said he had also been approached by those in favor of the move.

“That’s what I hear, is that they’d like to see a change,” he said.

Council member Jeff Dailey explained that of the $123,000 in funding given to the CVB each year, approximately $50,000 is spent on personnel and overhead, money which could be spend directly on tourism.

“What matters to me is the money,” Dailey said, especially in light of a likely increase in local property taxes in the coming year. “For every dollar you put into tourism, you get about $7 in sales taxes in return. If you put in an extra $50,000, that’s another $350,000 in return.”

But Perkins said the CVB was providing a needed service as it is now, one which some of the city’s bigger tourist attractions supported.

“Bob Landon’s winery may not get the business, Collin Street Bakery may not get the business,” Perkins said.

Council member Sandra Linson-Bell said it may not be easy for the council to change its mind later on if the plan fails.

“Sometimes, you just can’t send it back,” Bell said, also questioning the reason for the move. “Where is the identity? I just don’t get it.”

Eventually, the vote came down 4-3 in favor of the resolution, with Perkins, Bell and Holly Gotcher against.

Following the vote, Payne said he was “obviously disappointed” with the council’s decision. As the council had previously agreed to provide the funding to the CVB through the end of the current fiscal year, which ends in September, Payne said the agency would continue to provide its services.

“It does make it a little confusing to make some long range plans,” Payne said, mentioning how earlier in the evening the council received information about the inaugural Bob Wills Fiddle Festival and Contest, which is scheduled to take place at several downtown locations the weekend of October 31-November 2.

“I just don’t know what our role might be,” he said.

Payne said it was too early to determine if there will be any personnel changes at the chamber as a result of Tuesday’s vote.

“We’ll continue to do the job we do in promoting Greenville and promoting the businesses in Greenville,” Payne said.