By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Cooperation was the theme at the London Tourism and Convention Commission and the London Laurel County Tourist Commission meetings this week as both organization took steps towards working together to bring tourism to London and Laurel County.
At the London Tourism and Convention Commission meeting Monday night, the city commissioners began discussion about plans to hire a director as well establish committees to form bylaws and a budget.
Commission member Troy House presented the board with three different job descriptions for a director position.
“Most of them have a lot of little nitpicky things and I’m sure the city has guidelines as well. I guess, at this point, we need to pick out the major requirements and find out what the additional requirements of the city are,” House said.
London Mayor Troy Rudder presented the board with a short-term solution to the tourism commission’s issue of needing a director.
“To ease your burden on trying to get a director in a hurry, I talked to the chairman of the London-Laurel County Tourist (Commission),” Rudder said. “I talked to Mr. Tom Handy, He said if this board would take a part-time one (director), one from the other commission would come over and help on things like the budget, so that you all won’t be in such a hurry. Either Rodney (Hendrickson) or Kim (Collier) ... can help guide the board on laying the foundations. If the board would be open to that, that’s now another example of the two boards working together.”
Commission Chairman Bill Dezarn suggested that committees be formed to work with the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission.
“We need to get a budget pretty quick and I’m sure Rodney knows a lot about some of the things we need to be looking at early on. Then we can work on getting a director in place,” Rudder said. “That’s a very important position and even after we get the qualifications down, it’s going to take quite some time. I’d start with budget, bylaws, things like that and maybe we’ll ask Rodney for some of his expertise on this.”
Rodney Hendrickson, co-director of the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission, was in attendance at the meeting and offered his opinion on the topic.
“I think when ours were first set up, we used the KRS statute for our bylaws and just followed that,” Hendrickson said. “I don’t think you can supersede that.”
“You’ve dealt with this for a long time; I think that you would be a very good resource ... because practically you know probably more than everyone else in the room on what a tourist commission should be doing,” City Attorney Larry Bryson commented.
Bryson said the city would be open to any advice that Hendrickson would offer due to his level of experience.
“We’ve been trying to come up with some ways that we can get started working on some projects together,” Hendrickson said. “We have nine baseball and softball tournaments, these are traveling teams, scheduled with this organization called USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association) and they haven’t asked for any money to come here. A lot of events do; you have to pay them to come in. What they have asked for is in particular for signs at restaurants and hotels to welcome these teams coming from all over. We thought it would be a good way to work together.”
The two tourism commissions will work together to place 60 —1.5 feet by 2 feet — yard color signs that say “London-Laurel County welcomes you USSSA baseball/softball tournaments” at restaurants in London.
“It (the sign) could have the city’s logo on a corner and the London Laurel County Tourist Commission’s logo on another corner,” Hendrickson continued.
The cost would be $600 for all 60 signs, and they would be used nine times throughout the USSSA tournament season. The city and the London Laurel County Tourist Commission agreed to split the cost equally.
Hendrickson then asked the city tourism commission to help with the manual labor by splitting the restaurants up to put up and take down the signs.
“I think it would do two things,” Hendrickson said. “One it would serve the purpose to welcome this group and make them want to come back to London and it would be some good PR with your restaurants because of the proposed restaurant tax. I really don’t think from some of the comments made that they understand all that these events do to bring business to London.”
Rudder also suggested the city tourism commission work on a logo they could have put on signs like the ones used for the USSSA tournaments.
“A tourist doesn’t separate London and Laurel County,” Hendrickson said. “They couldn’t care less where that city boundary is. On things like logos and websites, I’d like for us to have one and both use it jointly. I think it’d be confusing to tourists to have two.”
Hendrickson told the city tourism commission they could use the new logo that the London Laurel County Tourist Commission recently created.
“The one that we’ve been using lately doesn’t even say tourist commission; it’s just got the trees and it says London Laurel County, Cross Roads to Adventure. You’re more than welcome to share that with us.”
London Commission member Holly Little felt that sharing the logo would create a cooperative spirit and help to ease harsh criticisms of the public about the new commission and recent tax.
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During the Tuesday meeting, the county’s London Laurel County Tourist Commission met to discuss several issues, including working with the city’s commission.
The meeting opened with nominations for the vacant board position representing the hotels and motels in Laurel County.
“The hotel motel association is a countywide organization and, by statute, the countywide organization is the one to nominate. That is the legal opinion that was rendered earlier,” Chairman Tom Handy said.
Cam Cornett, Ricky Ball and Amrut Patel were nominated and one will be chosen by the city to represent the hotels and motels on the city tourism commission.
Handy then went on to address the members of the city’s commission who were present during the Tuesday meeting.
“I had a call from the mayor last night and I know we talked a little bit earlier about working on the budget with you,” Handy said. “After we get through here, we’ll sit down and go through some of those things with you.”
Handy then asked what the status was of the restaurant tax and was informed by London Commission member Troy House that he wasn’t aware of a meeting yet. However, a meeting for the second reading of the ordinance establishing a restaurant tax was later scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
During the financial report, County Commission member Delford McKnight asked about the commission’s projected income.
“Am I correct that the transient room tax is several thousand above projected in income, maybe like $63,000 above projected?” McKnight asked. “Is that because of an increase in income? We’re projected $31,000 per month and it looks like we’re getting $40,000.”
Co-Director Kim Collier explained the projections were based on an average and, because of increased tourism events in 2013, the actual income brought in was higher than in past years and therefore exceeded expectations.
Collier also reported on repair costs since last meeting that included: a busted sprinkler that cost $1,627.51 after insurance, back door installation on the upper and lower floors at Heritage Hills Banquet Hall, replacement of fire exit lights which cost $2,318, door repair at the museum and a current roof leak at the museum leaking into the theatre dressing room.
Collier updated the commission on pending legislation that will cut tourism funds drastically by taking $9 million worth of restricted funds from the tourism industry brought in through the one percent transient room tax.
“It sets a bad precedent for the governor to take restricted funding away from the tourism industry,” Collier said. “Six million dollars that they’re going to take in this coming budget is there; it’s sitting there, the Department of Travel and Tourism was unable to access that money due to a spending cap that was put on the entire cabinet. The other $3 million that he is planning to take in the next budget hasn’t even been collected yet, so I don’t really know how you can call that a surplus when it hasn’t been collected yet. He is calling it a surplus.”
Collier explained the money is supposed to be used for state tourism marketing and that a loss of the funds will hurt smaller cities like London who fall short on marketing funds compared to other cities in the region.
“We get about $52,000 a year in our pot of money for marketing, so that will probably be gone,” Collier said. “It’s going to have a very negative effect on our industry and we really need to try to get the senate to restore that money and not let the governor take that.”
Chris Robinson, executive director of London Downtown, spoke about the upcoming, annual Redbud Ride.
“It’s been a long winter,” Robinson said. “People have not been on their bicycles, especially north of us. That’s where more than 75 percent of our people come from so registrations are down, but we still anticipate it to be our second biggest year ever with about 800-900. On the days the sun is out or a couple days in a row, you see registration go up. The long winter has definitely had an impact but we’re still going to have a great event.”
Co-Director Rodney Hendrickson added about 96 percent of the cyclists at the Redbud Ride are from out of town and that it is “truly an event that brings tourism to Laurel County.” Hendrickson also reminded the commission of the $5,000 Healthy Communities grant that will be used to put up a kiosk for cyclists at the farmer’s market and signs on cycling trails throughout Laurel County.
“From the last weekend in March through October, almost every weekend, we have some type of tourism event, some weekends have two,” Hendrickson reported. “Grills Gone Wild — the barbecue festival is going to have lots of things other than barbecue out there. The organizer thinks we’ll have several thousand visitors, a healthy percentage will be day visitors, but they spend money too.”
Grills Gone Wild will be held at the London-Laurel Optimist Sports Complex off west Ky. 80 on March 28 and 29, and starts at 5 p.m. Friday evening. Most activities will be throughout the day on Saturday.
Hendrickson also reported that the Kentucky Sports Authority held their spring meeting in London a few weeks ago. He found out through the meeting that sports tourism in Kentucky is on the rise and mentioned Elizabethtown as an example.
He pointed out that a sports park was built in Elizabethtown using funds from the restaurant tax. The sports park has baseball, softball and soccer fields that are built for travel teams to come and use the fields for their tournaments.
Hendrickson said Elizabethtown has a tournament almost every weekend and that, after one full year of operation, the park has been four or five times more successful than they imagined.
“They said they never thought it would be so successful.”
Hendrickson asked the city tourism commission members present to consider the option for London and Laurel County once they start building revenue.
The city’s London Tourism and Convention Commission meets the third Monday of every month at City Hall. The next meeting will be held on April 21.
The county’s London Laurel County Tourist Commission meets the third Tuesday at Heritage Hills Banquet Hall. The next meeting will be held on April 22.