Madison tourism officials are wrestling with the
idea of opening the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center to the public to allow
use of its restrooms during the citys largest festival event of
the year, the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. In recent years, the
tourism office has been closed to the public during the Chautauqua weekend
for fear of possible damage to the restrooms. Instead, the tourism office
restrooms have been open only to show exhibitors.
The 39th annual event, this year planned for Sept. 26-27, draws an estimated
50,000 people to Madison, organizers say. Visitors are given the option
of using port-o-pots or an air-conditioned restroom trailer that is set
up near the riverfront.
The restroom trailer is very nice, and we have had no complaints
about it in recent years, Chautauqua coordinator Georgie Kelly told
the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau board at its August meeting.
But board members attending the meeting were split on the idea of closing
the Visitors Center to the public during the largest tourism event of
the year. They spent much of the meeting debating whether it is wise to
keep out visitors who may want to browse the brochure racks and publications
about Madison or buy items from the gift shop especially during
these tough economic times. The Visitors Center is located inside the
show area at 601 W. First, just across from the Lanier Mansion, where
the main entertainment stage hosts live musical acts all weekend.
I think it sends the wrong message to the public to close our tourism
office during the Chautauqua, said board president Lucy Dattilo.
I understand the dilemma of monitoring the condition of the restrooms,
but I agree that the visitors center should be open during that weekend,
and especially that weekend, said board member Kevin Watkins.
Tourism director Linda Lytle explained the history on the issue of opening
the restrooms, recalling that a few years ago when the building was still
owned by the Lide White Boys & Girls Club that the restrooms were
open to the public during the festival. She said the damages to the restrooms
forced club director Ray Black to pay more than $700 in plumbing repair
bills after the show.
Ever since then, we have closed the building to the public,
Kelly said the Chautauqua committee has in its budget the money to pay
staff members to work the Visitors Center should the board decide to open
the building to the public that weekend. However, she preferred that it
stay closed to the public so it could remain a hospitality site for exhibitors.
She explained the difficulty of exhibitors leaving their booths to use
the restroom, and that committee volunteers are assigned to staff the
booths in the exhibitors absence.
Lytle said that, with permission of the state, which owns it, the building
could be opened during Chautauqua as it is every other weekend of the
year and the restrooms monitored with paid weekend staff. She offered
to check with the Lanier Mansion staff and report back to the board before
this years Chautauqua.
In August, Ohio River Valley Folk Festival committee members proposed
to the CVB board moving their event to the second weekend of June next
year in hopes of ensuring itself better weather. The outdoor festival
has been held the past four years in mid-May and suffered from either
cold temperatures or rain on occasion.
But they learned soon learned that the Madison Main Street Program was
planning to hold another Block Party on Main Street that weekend. The
first Block Party was held June 12 as part of this past summers
Madison Bicentennial Celebration and was considered a huge success.
Folk Festival chairman John Walburn said he at first tried to work with
the Main Street Program to hold both events that weekend. But he has since
learned that the Main Street board is planning to hold the Block Party
the entire weekend, not just Friday night.
As a result, the Folk Festival will remain on the third weekend of May
next year, which is May 21-22.
Meantime, Walburn reported to the board in July that this years
Folk Festival earned a $9,000 profit, enough to warrant hiring a part-time
coordinator to direct the festival into the future. He proposed that the
coordinator be paid $6,000 annually to direct the event. The director
would be hired by the CVB similar to the Ribberfest and Chautauqua. The
CVB board has not yet approved the idea.
Based on the success of the event, we now have in our budget for
a paid administrator and to increase our talent budget for next year,
The committee already has begun working on the talent for next year and
is planning a Half-Way to Folk Festival party Nov. 14 at the
Livery Stable on Broadway Street. The party is for sponsors, Folk Festival
Society members and those interested in helping with the festival.
This year, the Folk Festival committee worked hard to recruit 90 dues-paying
members by raffling off a custom-made guitar by Clint Bear. Bear has already
donated another guitar for next years raffle, and Walburn is hoping
to increase membership to 150.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.