6 of the 9 board members were present. Absent were Marty McDaniel, Yonnie Patronis, and Rick Russell.
Sports Marketing Update
Mr. Richard Sanders, Director of Sports Marketing, provided a report on the state of sport related tourism for our destination. After his update, he introduced Mr. Don Schumacher, Don Schumacher & Associates, Inc. His organization prepared the Sports Facilities Study and Recommendations previously requested by the board. The total cost of the report was $32,000.
Mr. Schumacher reported that PCB has been very successful in its baseball and softball sports marketing activities in recent years. However, he advised that competitive pressure from other destinations will require us to improve our available facilities if we expect this success to continue. It is his opinion that PCB is only currently competitive because of our “Beach” amenity that many competitors with superior facilities (such as Chattanooga and Gainesville) do not have. He also suggested that all facilities used by events need to be available on the beach, not spread throughout Bay County as they currently are. For example, he mentioned that expecting a tournament to schedule some games at Frank Brown Park while having other events in Callaway was not acceptable to the market. The study suggests that PCB immediately add between 4 and 8 baseball/softball fields at Frank Brown Park. The estimated cost would be $400,000 per field.
In addition to the ball fields, the report also concludes that PCB does not have acceptable rectangular fields. Although, there currently are part-time soccer fields at Frank Brown Park, these multi-use facilities are unacceptable if we want to pursue the type events that require these fields. Due to our current non-competitive situation, Schumacher does not currently suggest that we focus our efforts on adding to the existing rectangular facilities.
The report also suggests that PCB develop a large indoor multipurpose building. In addition to additional options during our peak season, the facility would allow us to attract additional events in the off-season. In addition to sporting events, the building could also be used for trade shows. Schumacher suggests that the facility consist of courts and floors only, not indoor turf. He estimates the facility cost to be $20 million and that it would result in an economic impact of $30 million per year. Chairman Andy Phillips requested that Mr. Schumacher provide an estimated cost of preparing a feasibility study relating solely to the indoor facility. While there is clearly much opposition to PCB developing a convention center, hopefully a multi-use facility will receive broader support
Finally, Mr. Schumacher advised that PCB should look at expanding fishing related events since not much infrastructure improvement would be required.
After the report was presented, a brief discussion concerning the options for funding expansion of our sports facilities took place. Responding to a board member question, Schumacher advised that most destinations fund these types of facilities with tourist taxes although private investment also plays a part. President Dan Rowe advised that it was his opinion that a bed tax increase was needed. Mr. Buddy Wilkes reminded everyone that the bed tax is mainly paid by visitors, not local residents.
It is clear that we need to immediately expand our baseball/softball facilities if we want to retain our current events. While increasing the bed tax could facilitate this goal, there is clearly substantial local opposition to any type of tax increase. Therefore, we can’t reasonably expect that an increase will be approved by the current or next County Commission. As a result, the Board should give serious consideration to reallocating a portion of the funds in the 2008-09 budget that are traditionally used for advertising to immediately expand the facilities at Frank Brown Park. Advertising programs like the current Summer White Sale could alternatively be funded by the businesses that choose to participate or the Chamber of Commerce. That way, our limited tax funds can be used for necessary infrastructure improvement and maintenance.
As a result of the Boards approval of the draft turtle lighting ordinance at the July meeting, both U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers have advised the TDC that the biological opinion requirements for the scheduled emergency beach nourishment project have been met.
Hopefully, the PCB City Council and the County Commission will promptly pass the ordinance so that future nourishment projects will not be jeopardized by the requirement of the Endangered Species Act.
Staff has begun the process of creating a budget and marketing plan for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. Staff and the advertising agency have met individually with the Board and Marketing Committee members to discuss the agency’s suggestions and solicit input. Staff will conduct a 2nd set of individual meetings to discuss the upcoming budget followed by a special Board meeting in two weeks.
It’s my understanding that there is no legal requirement that the public be allowed to attend these types of one-on-one meetings, nor has the TDC/CVB invited the public to attend. While I can understand that there are benefits of this structure, it is unfortunate that public knowledge and input is effectively being limited. In addition, the opinions of individual Board and Marketing Committee members concerning various aspect of the budget and marketing plan will likely be difficult for the public to discover due to the partially-closed process.
In the current budget year, Staff has made the decision to extend the Summer White Sale program that was scheduled to end this month through September 30th. The cost of $96,000.00 will be met with additional funds remaining in the current year marketing budget.
The CVB is currently working on expanding public education relating to beach safety. They are working with the local media to facilitate additional on-air warnings. In addition, Lamar Advertising has agreed to provide billboard advertisement at no-charge on an as available basis. No mention was made of the possibility of the TDC/CVB getting involved in providing lifeguards as the Walton County TDC does.
Bed Tax Collection Update
Ms. Charlene Honnen, Tourist Development Tax Specialist for Bay County reported that YTD collections for the fiscal year were up 3.5%. Although June collections were up 9.3%, Ms. Honnen advised that this large increase was partly due to collections from other time periods being transmitted in the June cycle.
-Bryan DurtaPrint Story