Legislators get whirlwind tour, listen to wish lists

Thursday, April 8, 2004
Talking with his hands, State Rep. Johnnie Bolen of Crossett visits with Eureka Springs Mayor Kathy Harrison, left, as Speaker of the House Herschel Cleveland of Paris, right, talks with Marvin Peterson of The Great Passion Play during a break in Friday morning's meeting of the Legislative Joint Subcommittee on Tourism at the Crescent Hotel. Sen. Randy Laverty of Jasper, center, was passing by looking for refreshments. CCN Photo/Mary Jean Sell

Members of the Arkansas Legislative Subcommittee on Tourism got a whirlwind tour of the greater Eureka Springs area and listened to locals talk about how the legislature could help with local issues last week.

State Sen. Randy Laverty of Jasper and Rep. Larry Prater of Cedarville are co-chairmen of the committee that gathered here Wednesday evening and stayed through Friday noon.

Other legislators attending included Speaker of the House Herschel Cleveland of Paris, Sen. Phil Jackson of Berryville, Rep. Johnnie Bolen of Crossett, Sen. Jack Critcher of Grubbs, Rep. Jim Milligan of Yellville, Rep. Paul Weaver of Violet Hill and retired Sen. Kim Hendren.

On hand to provide resource information were state Parks and Tourism Executive Director Richard Davies of Little Rock, Parks and Tourism Commissioner Jane Christensen of Harrison, Joe David Rice, Kathy Holt, Judy Steelman and Shelby Woods.

In Friday morning's meeting, it was Terry Cook, representing the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, who first addressed the need for partnership with the state in economic development in this area as well as some specific projects.

He spoke about the improvement of Highway 62 west, including widening the shoulders and adding passing lanes; the preservation of the Beaver Bridge as a historic landmark; the development of Highway 187 as a possible by-pass around Eureka Springs; the development of the Beaver Dam hatchery project, and the addition of a marina near Beaver Dam.

Laverty encouraged the members of the committee to work with him to "make sure we save the Beaver Bridge and find a solution to the Highway 187 problem." (See related story on Page 10.)

Rep. Bolen suggested the community "set up a committee to work with the state Game and Fish people and take a community approach to the hatchery project."

Rep. Cleveland was interested in having someone here write a short report on how the community dealt with the filming of the movie "Chrystal" last summer. He mentioned the state's financial incentives to the movie producers and asked for the city to outline what had been done here as incentives.

The city council and the City Advertising and Promotion Commission (CAPC) set up a "credit and rebate" program for the movie company around the payment of local sales taxes.

Jack Moyer, past chairman of the Community Development Partnership (CDP) for Western Carroll County, said "We have a bit of a pre-conceived image problem in Eureka Springs. We are working together and cooperating with one another to promote our area.

"We have a huge sales force in Arkansas in the new convention centers, the advertising and promotion commissions across the state, and marketing people for large hotels.

"We need to challenge the sales development on a state level to get more leads to individuals so we can give people more reasons to come here.

"We need to have the highway between here and Branson (MO) improved so those 9 million visitors can come south. We want to draw them here. We would like to have some signage at the intersection of Highways 62 and 65 saying "Visit Eureka Springs, a national treasure."

Bolen suggested sending letters of request for signage to the state highway department.

Milligan suggested signs be placed at the intersection of Highways 412 and 62 at Alpena.

Beth Stevens, director of advertising and promotion in Rogers, said she felt like the state's advertisement of the Ozarks as a region was too big an area to be effectively served.

The Department of Parks and Tourism has divided the state into regions for general advertising purposes.

"With all of the business travelers we have during the week in the Bentonville-Rogers-Springdale-Fayetteville area, we need to be working to turn them into weekend visitors," she said.

"The potential market there is tremendous. Northwest Arkansas is the fastest growing area in the nation. We need 'clinchers,' reasons for people to vacation here as well as do business."

Rep. Prater put things into a different perspective for those attending the meeting as visitors.

"We are all term limited," he said. "It is fine for you to invite us here and show us what you have, but there isn't a lot we are going to be able to do.

"You need to invite the new members of the legislature up here after they are elected (in the fall) and show them what you have, tell them what you need. We will help where we can, but we don't have a lot of time left in the legislature."

Davies brought the conversation back to regional promotion but suggesting directors of the three regional tourism associations get together and develop some promotional ideas for the state to work with.

Speaker Cleveland gave the group some statistics:

"There are 64 million people in five states and 12 partial states within 500 miles of Little Rock," he said.

" There are 24 million households with median incomes of $38,000. In the 50 years old and over category, there are 17 million people within 500 miles of Little Rock running up and down these roads."

Mayor Kathy Harrison thanked the committee members and resource people for coming to Eureka to hold their meeting.

She praised the spirit of cooperation she had seen since Wednesday evening and said she hoped everyone had found new ways to help bring more visitors into this area and the state.

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