Variety of views aired during three-hour CAPC forum

Monday, July 24, 2006

EUREKA SPRINGS -- City Advertising and Promotion Commissioners answered criticism, strove to correct misinformation, and took input from the public with a near three-hour public forum Tuesday night at the Western District Courthouse.

During the commission's workshop Wednesday, they still had a lot of digesting to do.

A total of more than 80 persons were in the courtroom for Tuesday's forum, with an unknown number watching on public access television. Comments from the public were generally supportive, but did not shy away from questions and controversy.

Some of those watching were disturbed by a somewhat humorous introduction utilizing a PowerPoint presentation with the sound of gunfire to accent specific points countering information printed in ads in the Lovely County Citizen.

Commissioner KJ Zumwaldt said on Wednesday following the workshop that she found the presentation to be offensive, while Executive Director Lynn Berry reported feedback from members of a civic organization that the gunfire sound was effective and help to ease tension.

Chairman Brian Sumpter preceded Tuesday's Power Point presentation reading the CAPC's mission and vision statement, apparently in an effort to dispel some misunderstandings among the community.

Among the points made by through the PowerPoint presentation was that the state audit of CAPC financial records has consistently produced a "no findings" result, meaning the accounting is flawless. No other arm of city government has that kind of audit record.

Included in the vision statement is the CAPC's intent to cultivate economic growth, enhance the experience of visitors, and be one of the best tourist destinations in the Southeast United States.

Berry addressed the salaries of the various CAPC staff members, which, with benefits and burden, comes to about $160,650 per year. She also outlined the responsibilities of each of the four office employees, including bookkeeper Shelia Hulsey, Webmaster Chris Dunham, Corresponding Secretary Karen Pryor, and herself.

It was interesting to note that Berry's own job responsibilities are usually handled by two persons in similar advertising and promotion operations, though Berry did not directly make a point of that.

Berry went on to outline the salaries and responsibilities of Auditorium Director Ray Dilfield and Auditorium Assistant Jackie Wolven. Combined, their salaries, benefits and burden approaches $62,000. Berry also noted the pay for rest room maintenance personnel, Rudy and Kim Sanchez, the cost of which totals $22,220.

Going on, Berry said the contract with Festival Director Sally Thackery is $50,000, which covers five festivals, which are each funded with $20,000 with an additional $10,000 for advertising.

Commissioner Richard Grinnell outlined the goals of the CAPC, chief among which is to increase income from the CAPC's five percent tax for 2006 by increasing multiple night stays through advertising and media exposure.

As for a marketing plan, Grinnell said product development is based on what Eureka Springs has and who wants that experience. "Romance and getaways keep popping up," he said, but the industry and clientele keeps changing. He indicated that there is not much consensus today on which markets are the best ones to aim for.

He said that the CAPC tries to be fiscally responsible, and works to enhance community and state relations with an eye to prioritizing Eureka Springs with state advertising.

But research, monitoring and planning are continually needed, he said, noting that major companies as Kodak, which had to shift from film to digital cameras, and IBM, which once considered personal computers a passing fad, learned the hard way and had to do the same thing to remain competitive.

"For every $1,000 we spend, we have to generate $50,000 in revenue," he said, that being the level of sales needed to re-generate the cost from the sales tax. "We have to get to the point where we can measure that," he said.

Commissioner Steve Roberson noted inaccurate numbers used in a print ad two months ago which painted a bleaker financial picture than what actually exists.

He also stated that "perhaps we need to stick with a plan and see what works," rather than make snap decisions on short-range perceived results.

"Let us know what direction to take," Roberson said. "Eliminating the CAPC serves no purpose."

Berry noted that Web traffic, reflecting unique visitors as opposed to simple hits, have increased each year since 2003.

Prior to opening up the forum to the public, commissioners briefly described their individual educational and business and professional experience, which includes accounting, building contracting, the hospitality industry, restaurant cooking, marketing, real estate, furniture sales, and three terms on the city council of Miami, Fla.

Also, Berry noted a July 9 Associated Press story on Mike American Automobile Association, who stated that nationwide the travel industry is flat this year, while figures show it to be up by 3.6 percent in Eureka Springs, five percent in Little Rock, six percent in Hot Springs, and eight percent statewide, the later largely being due to a large number of new hotels and motels in the I-540 corridor.

First from the public to speak was Tom West Tharp, who described an isolated or ignored condition for himself as a businessman in town who lives outside the city.

He said the vast majority of people patronizing his carriage service say that they came to Eureka Springs due to word of mouth, with one couple saying they saw an ad in Architectural Digest and another saying they saw Eureka Springs advertised on a billboard.

"Word of mouth is all I see working," he said, further recommending that the CAPC concentrate on Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. He also suggested that contact with the executive management of Wal-Mart should be made to encourage using Eureka Springs as a retreat.

Tharp also said that he did not have a problem with paying the CAPC tax if he knows where the money is going, and asked for some type of information along that line to be made available, such as the type and size of ad, the cost and the media in which it is used.

Berry responded that ads and where they appear are on the CAPC's Web site, and that prices can be added without a problem. She also noted that the city already gets some retreats from Wal-Mart.

Grinnell also made note that anyone present could sign up for monthly updates via e-mail, although during Wednesday's workshop it was noted that no one did so.

Roberson also called to persons to feel free to contact commissioners or attend its meetings. "We don't ask if you have a business. We all have an open door."

Rick Bright said he felt the CAPC should focus on advertising and not be funding festivals. "It's as simple as your name," he said

Further, he disapproved of paying wages of Auditorium workers, though he realized that the commission did not set that up.

Bob Jeninski, of Angel at Rose Hall, questioned if advertising was going in the right direction, and suggested in bringing in experts. "Should you be going after the RVs with the gas prices?" he asked. "Coke and Pepsi change their advertising all the time."

Still, he allowed that his business is up five percent this year based on records of the previous owner.

Sandy Wright called for more emphasis on the hidden asset of the community's arts and culture. "You know it in passing, but you don't own it," she said.

She noted that 46 percent of the nation's 199.8 million traveling adults include a cultural, arts, heritage or historic activity while on a one-way trip of up to 50 miles. "With the change of population characteristics in the (I-540) corridor, and all the transplants from around the country, we are more nationally representative of that statistic than ever before," she claimed.

Whether the is experience is one of reality or perception does not matter, she said. "We know the difference, but perception is what becomes the customer's reality."

Wright provided the CAPC with a print-out of her talk, which included a number of points to consider, including active promotion of attractions like The Artery, art classes, Opera and literary events; clustering events, like "Bikes, Blues and Bar-B-Q"; a very concentrated publicity effort in the I-540 corridor using local creative talents and resources; and letting the Eureka Springs personality out through its residents, as a unique environment with room for diverse experiences and people.

Enid Swartz, like others, noted that she is seeing more and more visitors staying through Sunday nights. She cited her own experience with Burns Night, a celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns which grew from 15 participants to more than 130 over 15 years. That event takes place in January, and she suggested other events could be developed during the so-called off season.

Perhaps by coincidence, to start Wednesday's CAPC workshop, artist Susan Morrison outlined a idea for emphasis on Eureka Springs as a destination for shopping, romance, relaxation and faith from right after Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve.

All told, 17 people signed up to address the CAPC Tuesday night, with subject matter including:

* Maintenance of city-owned limestone sidewalks by property owners;

* "Nagging" of the state legislature;

* Continued improved dialogue between citizens and the commission;

* The unfairness of some retailers who don't collect the CAPC tax but benefit from it;

* Semi-privatization of the City Auditorium;

* Need for volunteers in all forms for community events, from parking attendants and clean-up crews to entertainers;

* Enforcement of delinquent tax collections;

* History of tourism in the community and the Auditorium with the opening of

the latter with John Phillip Sousa just weeks before the 1929 stock market crash;

* Crafting of state law governing advertising and promotion commissions;

* Constitutionality of spending tax dollars to promote religion in the form of The Great Passion Play's Dickens of a Christmas;

* Pay of CAPC employees as a percentage of revenues received; and many other issues.

During Wednesday's workshop, commissioners agreed to individually summarize the points they picked up from the forum, which will be combined into a single document for review and consideration.

Wednesday's workshop was primarily a mid-year review, and focused on the CAPC's financial standing.

It was noted that with higher gas prices, visitors are being more frugal not in travel but in other purchases.

Hulsey stated that overall, tax collections are up a little and expenses are down a little

A contingency fund of $27,000 in media may be joined with savings elsewhere in the budget to buy advertising in niche markets or for New Year's Eve. Hulsey is to prepare a report on the projected savings for the commission's next meeting

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