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Madison tourism

New mayor means new members
for tourism board in 2008

Board studying budget proposal for next year

 

 
(December 2007)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

With newly elected Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong set to take office Jan. 1, the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau board is about to see some new faces as it prepares for 2008. Two of the nine board members will be replaced as a result of the new administration.
The mayor appoints one member to the board and the Madison City Council appoints another. Those seats are currently filled by Betsey Vonderheide and Mary Kay Dwyer, respectively. Vonderheide serves as Special Project Administrator to outgoing Mayor Al Huntington. Dwyer is retiring from the City Council and did not seek re-election. It is uncertain if those seats will be filled in time to attend the tourism board’s annual January strategic planning retreat.
The tourism board has worked closely with Huntington over the years on such projects as planning the 2009 Madison Bicentennial Celebration, scheduled to take place at the yet-to-be-constructed Madison Bicentennial Park on the riverfront. Huntington also was involved in obtaining boat docks that are instrumental in bringing boaters to Madison’s festivals and to shop at downtown businesses.
Other tourism-related topics that have involved the mayor in recent years are the Heritage Trail of Madison, Underground Railroad initiatives, exploratory efforts to establish an arts center, an effort to create a sports commission and the riverfront development, including the recent sale of the former Meese building.
As part of the transition, Madison Area CVB Executive Director suggested to her board in November that they invite Armstrong to attend the December monthly meeting. She was uncertain if he would be able to attend. But Lytle and CVB Board President Lucy Dattilo did meet with Armstrong on Nov. 20 to discuss some of the tourism-related issues.
“They’ve got some really interesting projects in the works, I hope to become more familiar with them as I get adjusted into the job,” Armstrong said during a Nov. 23 telephone interview. “I obviously have a lot to learn and tourism is an important part of it.”
Armstrong said his goal is to involve people in local government, and he wants to learn as much as he can from others before making any sweeping changes. “It’s important that we get people’s ideas, and then see how we can work from there.”
In addition to tourism, he must consider which of the city’s department heads he wants to keep or replace. Among them are police, fire, streets, parks and building inspections.
Tourism, meanwhile, is wrapping up the year and has heard good reports from its various festival directors. Lytle submitted her 2008 budget proposal at the October meeting, but the board’s executive committee met in private to discuss Lytle’s request for a 5 percent raise for herself and her staff members. Last year, a similar request was trimmed to 2.5 percent.
A 5 percent raise would increase the tourism director’s annual salary to $41,395. Lytle defends the proposed raise saying her current salary of $39,423 ranks below the average of other tourism directors in the region.
Dattilo initiated an employee review of the director this year and told the board that a revised budget proposal would be voted on at the December meeting. The board’s bylaws require that the next year’s budget be approved by December of the preceding year. The 2008 budget that Lytle proposed represents a 3 percent increase, from $310,719 to $321,073.
In addition to salaries, the board must consider several initiatives that the tourism staff is pursuing. Lytle reported on the progress of each:
n Sports Commission: An initial meeting of select people in the community met with Huntington several months ago to discuss forming a sports commission. No follow up meetings have taken place. Lytle told the board that she did not apply for money through a recent statewide grant offer for cities wanting to create sports commissions but insisted that forming one in Madison would be helpful. A discussion ensued about who might be qualified to serve as its paid director, should the initiative go forward. “This is something I feel is valuable to this community and we need to proceed with it,” Lytle said. “But I can’t start that type of program, and I don’t know anyone else in the community with that type of experience.”

• Branding: The Madison Main Street Program is heading a branding campaign to market the city’s newly designated National Historic Landmark District status. The Main Street Program recently received grant money to help fund it. Lytle said she has talked with officials from other cities, and they recommend forming a core group of three to five people to manage the process. “We plan to involve Ivy Tech, Hanover College and other groups,” she said. No details were provided about who is actually developing the city’s branding initiative or where it stands. Lytle indicated that an outside consulting firm would eventually be hired to handle the bulk of the work. She said the process is expected to last nine months and be ready to launch in time for the city’s 2009 Bicentennial.

 Product Development: Lytle said she is hoping that Madison will be among only 12 Indiana towns that will participate in state tourism’s offer to partially fund a visit by Seattle marketing consultant Roger Brooks. Brooks was a hit at last spring’s Hoosier Hospitality Conference, where he served as keynote speaker. The three-day visit sometime next year will cost $12,000, with Indiana tourism paying $5,000 for each participating town. Madison’s portion would be $7,000 of that total. Lytle said she would ask the Jefferson County Board of Tourism for $3,500 and the city for the other $3,500. Brooks will visit and analyze local businesses and the town as a whole, then make recommendations. “I think it would be helpful to our branding process,” Lytle told the board. Learn more at Brooks’ company website: www.destinationdevelopment.com

• Underground Railroad: A new historic marker for local Underground Railroad figure Chapman Harris is about to go up, pending funding of $1,800, Lytle said. The state of Indiana is providing $750, with the county responsible for the balance of $1,050. Lytle said she has asked County Commissioner Julie Berry to provide the money from the historic preservation account that is funded with Belterra Casino Resort & Spa payments to the county. The marker is scheduled to go up in Eagle Hollow. Meanwhile, Lytle said that Jae Breitweiser, director of Historic Eleutherian College in Lancaster, is applying for three additional “Network to Freedom” designations this year. If approved, Jefferson County would have more sites so designated by the federal government than anywhere in the nation, Lytle reported.

• Foodways Alliance: Lytle reported that Foodways Alliance, based in northeastern Indiana, plans to develop a “Food Trail” through the area, which would help promote southeastern Indiana on a website dedicated to “foodies.” These are people who travel based on their interest in regional foods and wines. To qualify, the alliance must identify 10-12 restaurants in the area that meet and maintain its criteria. The cost is $1,000 per year to participate. Lytle said she would ask the Jefferson County Board of Tourism for the money. “I think joining this would be helpful to our local restaurants to improve and critique themselves and help them market themselves more,” Lytle said. Foodways Alliance executive director Susan Haller held a seminar recently in Madison that was sponsored by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce. Learn more at www.indianafoodways.com.

• Folk Festival: Director John Walburn made a report to the board in October, saying the festival broke even this year. That was an improvement over the initial year, when it had a negative profit of $4,600 despite receiving $5,000 in seed money from the Jefferson County Board of Tourism. The group received no financial assistance from the board this year, “so in essence, we made up about $9,500,” Walburn said. A price increase for admission wristbands is being considered for 2008. Walburn said the group is seeking new members that are not also involved in the Madison Ribberfest. He said the group must find a new title sponsor and is already working on the musical lineup and other sponsors. Festival co-chairman Steve Thomas has relinquished his leadership role but will still work with the festival, he said.

• Moving the tourism office: At October’s meeting, Lytle spent much of the evening discussing her desire to move her office out of the state-owned Lanier-Madison Visitors Center at 601 W. First St. The county pays no rent to be located there with administrative offices of the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site. Lytle’s reasoning stems from her desire to obtain more control over the gift shop operation. Currently, the tourism office shares space in the gift shop with the Lanier Mansion Foundation, which operates it. Lytle said she had received several comments about her proposal since October, but nothing was said about the issue at the November meeting. The Madison tourism office moved to its present location in March 2003 from a chamber-owned building at 301 E. Main St.

• 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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