Open or shut case

Tourism board debates closure
of Visitors Center during Chautauqua

Folk festival to hire part-time
paid coordinator for 2010


(September 2009)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

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 city’s 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,” she said.
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 exhibitor’s 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 year’s Chautauqua.

Folk Festival profitable

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 summer’s 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 year’s 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,” Walburn said.
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 year’s 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.


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