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Planning ahead

Madison area groups put
heads together to decide how
to spend bridge dollars

Economic mitigation funds
to pay for tourism marketing

 

 
(August 2010)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

What would you do with a quarter million dollars?
That may seem like a question posed on a TV show such as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” But the City of Madison is about to receive such a sum to help with tourism marketing as part of the economic mitigation to offset negative impacts from the pending closure of the Milton-Madison Bridge during the superstructure replacement project. In fact, it is only part of a larger amount of money being provided through the project funding to help ease the pain of the economic impact to the area.
Although it is still unknown when exactly the bridge will close until the contract is awarded in September and a work schedule announced by the winning contractor, representatives of various entities in Madison, including tourism, have been meeting monthly for the past four months to discuss their plans for how this money should be spent. The group has become known as the Mitigation Committee, for lack of a better name. It includes representatives from City Hall, the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Jefferson County Board of Tourism, the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Partners, Madison Main Street Program, Historic Madison Inc. and Cornerstone Society Inc.

Bridge Economic
Impact Mitigation
Funds

• $205,000 to the City of Madison for tourism marketing

• $40,000 to the City of Milton, Ky., for tourism and promotional marketing

• $80,000 to the City of Madison hire a Historic Preservation Office for a period of two years at $40,000 per year for the purpose of securing grants and other financial assistance to preserve the city’s National Landmark District

• $80,000 to the Madison Main Street Program to develop initiatives to help offset negative economic impacts to local businesses over a period of two years ($40,000 per year)

Source: Memoranda of Agreement (full document available online at: www.MiltonMadisonBridge.com)

The superstructure replacement project of the 80-year-old bridge, slated to begin next year, has involved nearly two years of study, public meetings, surveys and longterm negotiations between Kentucky and Indiana to find the money to pay for the venture. After nearly a year of waiting for up to $90 million in federal stimulus money to put toward the cost, the project recently received only $20 million in federal dollars, with the two states agreeing to split the remaining amount.
As part of the projected $131 million effort, a 16-page Memoranda of Agreement, or working contract, was developed to establish the ground rules between the two states at the local and state levels, and even at the federal level. The agreement, signed in early June by all parties, provides pots of money to various groups and initiatives, with tourism marketing being the largest (see box on Page 4). Finalizing the agreement was held up last spring when Kentucky’s state budget negotiations among legislators stalled and went into special session. Once the state budget was approved, the money was freed for the bridge project, and the agreement signed.
Despite so many loose ends at the time, such as time schedule for closing the bridge and establishing the sources of money to pay for it, the Mitigation Committee began meeting at City Hall. Jan Vetrhus, who chaired the year-long planning and implementation of last year’s nine-day Madison Bicentennial, was appointed by Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong to lead the newly formed committee. He sat in on some meetings but chose the city’s Development Director Jenny Eggenspiller to represent him on the committee.
“While $205,000 may sound like a lot of money to most people, it is not nearly enough to do what we need to do to help this community during the bridge closure. It should have been more like 1 percent of the project, or $1.3 million,” said Vetrhus.
Nevertheless, Vetrhus said she is pleased with the progress of these meetings because “it keeps us all working together and focused.” She considers the initiative “a wonderful opportunity, but we are still in a very preliminary stage because we don’t know yet when we can actually start spending the money until we know the construction schedule.”
The Memoranda of Agreement, or MOA, contains the ground rules for receiving and spending the economic impact dollars. It stipulates that no money can be spent until eight months prior, and six months after, the actual bridge closure – not the just the beginning of construction. Based on a projected timetable recently released by the bridge consultants, the committee is speculating the bridge may close in August or September 2011, thus allowing it to begin spending its money as early as this January.
Bridge consultants say the bridge will be closed between nine and 12 months, and the MOA stipulates that it cannot be closed for more than 12 months. The estimated date for project completion is currently December 2012, however, a recent change to the bid package could extend that date to May 2013, officials said.
Vetrhus says all decisions regarding how the economic impact money will be spent will be made as a group. “No one person will do this,” she said. “It’s a big job, and we only have one shot at doing it right.”

Milton-Madison Bridge

Photo by Don Ward

The Milton-Madison Bridge
superstructure replacement project
is scheduled to begin in early 2010.

The task may be quantified when you consider that the town’s current tourism budget for advertising amounts to only $25,000 a year. Now armed with a budget more than four times that size, “We hope to spend money to market our town in areas that the CVB normally doesn’t have the money to market to,” Eggenspiller said.
The group plans to spend its budget in three ways, Vetrhus said. The first initiative will be to advertise to the immediate region on how people can get to Madison when the bridge first closes. A second portion of money will pay for tourism advertising in cities as far north as Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago, in an effort to entice new people to visit Madison. These are people in northernmost cities who would not necessarily have to cross the Ohio River to get to Madison. A third effort would be to advertise when the newly constructed bridge re-opens.
As part of the project, $5 million is being spent to operate a two-vessel, 24-hour ferry service across the river free of charge during the months that the bridge is closed. It is hoped that the ferry company itself will also advertise its service, Vetrhus said.
“It is critical that our commuters have a pleasant experience getting to and from work or school on the ferry so they will talk it up to their coworkers. If they have a bad experience, we’re done,” she said.
Another immediate initiative will be to hire a firm to develop and implement the marketing portion of the city’s much ballyhooed Branding campaign. This effort last year produced a 64-page Branding report by Seattle consultant Roger Brooks at a cost of $50,000. The report offers recommendations for the city to pursue in its branding of the town in its tourism marketing. A separate Branding Committee formed soon after the report was released and it continues to meet to discuss how the recommendations can be honed and implemented. Eggenspiller, who sits on both committees, says it is hoped a marketing firm can be hired as early as January to develop the advertising campaign that will coincide with marketing of the bridge re-opening.
Vetrhus said that once the bridge construction schedule is released, perhaps as early as September or October, the Mitigation Committee plans to hold some public meetings “and become a much wider group.”
John Carr of Wilbur Smith Associates and the lead consultant on the bridge replacement project, said he was happy to hear that the Mitigation Committee had formed and that local groups were meeting regularly to plan well ahead of the project’s start. “Meeting now to develop a good strategy shows they’re engaged and being very practical. They can start thinking through these scenarios,” he said. “We still have plenty of time, but as we move through this, they’ll have time to make adjustments.”
Carr acknowledged that local officials may be inexperienced in managing such a large marketing budget, but added, “We believe the local people best know their town’s strengths and where their target market of tourists is coming from, so we trust them to spend the money wisely. They understand the needs of the community the best. And if they want to hire an outside marketing firm to help them, they have that right to do so.”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.

 

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