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Lebanon councilman not 'feeling the beat'

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Commission's aim is to attract visitors, director says

By The Staff

Lebanon is touted as the "Heart of Kentucky" but Lebanon City Councilman Kenny Marrett isn't feeling the beat when it comes to the efforts of the local tourist and convention commission.

Marrett discussed his concerns with the commission and Executive Director Chris Hamilton during the commission's regular monthly meeting March 8. According to Marrett, when he served on the city council years ago he was on a committee that researched whether or not to establish a tourism commission. He left office prior to that final decision being made in March of 2003, but he has always supported tourism, he said. In fact, Marrett was the project manager during the construction of a multi-purpose stage behind Centre Square that has been used during the Hoofprints on the Stairs production, as well as other productions, concerts and events.

"I support tourism. I want tourism. I've worked to attract tourism," Marrett said. "But during all the talk and discussions on whether to establish a commission or not ... all of the hopes of what a commission was going to do for us, it doesn't seem like I'm really seeing that."

More than a million dollars has been collected by the tourism tax, but according to Marrett, there isn't a lot to show for it aside from advertising dollars being spent to promote "a few events," such as the Ruley's holiday light show in Loretto, he said.

"You advertise Ruley's light show on the other side of Loretto. But, it's a Lebanon commission and a Lebanon tax," Marrett said. "I don't know why we can't create a Ruley's light show in Lebanon at the park."

  'Never really caught on'

Speaking of the holidays, Marrett said he and his fellow members of the Main Street Committee were very upset that the Dickens Christmas celebration was omitted from a Kentucky travel guide recently. According to Hamilton, he mistakenly forgot to submit information about Dickens for the guide, but there was never a guarantee that it would have been included in the first place. The creators of the travel guide pick and choose what they publish in it, he said.

Marrett also voiced concerns on behalf of the Main Street Committee regarding the Dickens Christmas event and it not being promoted along with the Heart of Kentucky Holiday Festival, which is the weekend following Dickens.

From 2005 to 2008, Dickens was a part of the holiday festival. But, the committee decided to move Dickens back to the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving in 2009 after receiving requests from the public to change the date.

With the change, Dickens was no longer a part of the Heart of Kentucky Holiday Festival, which includes events in Marion and Washington counties. As a result, Dickens wasn't included in promotional materials and advertisements for the holiday festival.

"This Heart of Kentucky Holiday Festival and not advertising Dickens has probably got more people upset than anything else," Marrett said.

But, Marrett insisted that it goes deeper than that.

"I'm on the street all the time. People either don't understand tourism or they definitely don't like it," he said. "Are they beating us up over the two cents they pay on a cup of coffee? No, not right now. But they want to see $1.5 million dollars. Where did it go? They can't hang their hat on it."

Hamilton said he would love to talk to those people and show them exactly where that money is being spent. According to Hamilton, the tourism commission's mission statement is to promote Lebanon and the surrounding area, which is exactly what the commission is doing, he said. But, the commission has also spent more than $200,000 for tourism related things people can "see and feel," Hamilton said, such as the theater seats in Angelic Hall at Centre Square, sound boards in the gym, Centre Square banners and the downtown pavilion, not to mention the 18-hole disc golf course at Graham Memorial Park.

"We have a $20,000 disc golf course out there that we are very proud of," Hamilton said.

Marrett does not share Hamilton's sentiments on the disc golf course, however.

"Really and truly that has never really caught on in this community," he said.

But, it wasn't meant to, necessarily, according to Hamilton.

"What we are after is attracting people from other communities," he said. "We didn't build the disc golf course for local people to play - we built it to attract visitors. There are local people that play it, but that's a side benefit."

  Following the plan

In fact, the disc golf course was part of an effort to expand Graham Memorial Park and help it become a sporting events hub. Expanding the park was just a portion of a plan completed by Destination Development, Inc., a consulting firm that the commission hired in January of 2005. The firm developed a tourism branding, development and marketing plan, at the cost of approximately $40,000, which included redeveloping the Marion County Fairgrounds to become an equestrian park, turning the downtown area into an "event plaza," including an amphitheater, and expanding the park.

But, according to Hamilton, the No. 1 responsibility of a tourism bureau is marketing. However, Marrett said he didn't think the tourism commission could be effective unless it coordinated some events themselves.

According to Hamilton, tourism has been very effective for the local economy. Tourism has grown from initially having a $12 million impact to now having a $17 million economic impact, Hamilton said.

"We have over a half a million dollars more in lodging business and we lost 60 or 70 rooms when we lost the Country Hearth Inn," Hamilton said. "Our restaurant business is $4.5 million stronger now than when we started a tourism bureau. How can you refute that data?"

Marrett said he believed tourism should be orchestrating more events themselves, but according to Hamilton, that wouldn't be effective.

"If you wanted us to orchestrate and put on events, we would probably have about six a year," Hamilton said. "When I took this job in 2005, we had about 12 annual events. We now invest in upwards of 43 events."

Marrett told Hamilton and the commission that he wanted to see a list of those 43 events and how much the commission invested in those events.

A list of those events (which has actually grown to a total of 54) and how much the tourism commission invested in those events accompanies this story. The list, which was provided by Hamilton, shows a total of $526,626.52 in tourism investments for local events since 2003, 40 percent of which was spent on projects in the City of Lebanon.

  Tourism project and event funding   1. City of Lebanon - $215,828.67      Includes:

     a. Centre Square Convention Center sound boards

     b. Angelic Hall theatre seats

     c. Modular staging/podium

     d. Conference room tables/chairs

     e. Disc golf course for Graham Memorial Park expansion

     f. Downtown pavilion

     g. Gorley Trail/Fagan Branch paving, parking, trail work, tools, etc.

     h. Centre Square banners

     i. Holiday activities - Christmas in the Park display and snowflake lights

     j. Reverse Triathlon

     k. Lebanon Fire School

     l. Heart of Kentucky Ham Ball Tournament

  2.) Live in Lebanon Concert Series - $46,476   3.) Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff - $31,361

    (requests from Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians)

  4.) Marion County Country Ham Days - $25,699.20

    (requests from Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce)

  5.) Hoofprints on the Stairs - $20,000

    (requests from Hoofprints on the Stairs Committee)

 

6.) Heart of Kentucky Farm, Home & Garden Show - $18,400

    (requests from Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce)

  7.) Lightning Over Lebanon - $15,500

    (requests from Marion County Fair Board)

  8.) Jets Over Kentucky Week - $15,200

    (requests from AMT/USA and River City Radio Controllers)

  9.) Marion County Holiday Homecoming Classic - $15,000

    (requests from Marion County Boys' Basketball)

 

10.) Heart of Kentucky Heritage & Soul Festival - $12,750

     (requests from St82dapoint)

 

11.) Heart of Kentucky Minor League All-Star Invitational - $11,500

     (requests from Marion County Little League)

  12.) Heart of Kentucky Antique & Craft Fair - $11,275

     (requests from Marion County Relay for Life)

  13.) Marion County Japanese Cultural Day - $7,250

     (requests from Marion County Industrial Foundation)

  14.) Heart of Kentucky Art on the Green - $5,775

     (requests from Marion County Arts & Humanities Council)

 

15.) Heart of Kentucky Cheer & Dance Showcase - $4,950 (committed, not spent)

     (requests from Marion County Cheerleaders)

 

16.) Heart of Kentucky/John Cox Martial Arts Masters Workshop - $4,800

     (requests from John Cox Martial Arts/Sandoval Karate Kobudo Federation)

  17.) Heart of Kentucky Baseball Classic - $4,500

     (requests from Marion County High School Baseball)

 

18.) 400 Miles of Antiques, Collectibles & Stuff - $4,343

     (requests from We Make Things Happen Corp.)

  19.) Heart of Kentucky Pigskin Classic - $4,000

     (requests from Marion County High School Football)

  20.) Heart of Kentucky Holiday Festival - $4,000   21.) Heart of Kentucky Christian Music Festival - $3,750

     (requests from Norma McClarnon)

  22.) Kentucky Soundfest State Finals - $3,600

     (requests from Mystic Minds car club)

  23.) Arena - $3,500   24.) Lebanon Disc Golf Open - $3,000

     (requests from Chuck Dulmage/Lebanon Disc Golf Association)

  25.) Marion County Quilt Trail - $2,700

     (requests by Marion County Quilt Trail Committee)

 

26.) Rosewood Fall Classic golf tournament - $2,700 (committed, not spent)

     (requests from Mike Gootee)

  27.) Fishing For Kids/Mid-Ky. Bass Anglers Day - $2,592

     (requests from Fishing For Kids)

  28.) Marion County 16U Invitational - $2,000

     (requests from Brian Spalding)

  29.) Heart of Kentucky Youth Festival - $1,750

     (requests from John Cox Martial Arts)

  30.) Mid-Kentucky Chorus Concerts - $1,700

     (requests from Mid-Kentucky Chorus)

 

31.) Kentucky Festivals & Events Association Convention - $1,615.76

     (requests from Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce)

  32.) Lincoln Trail Homemakers Convention - $1,590

    (requests from Marion County Homemakers Association)

  33.) Central Kentucky Tiger Shark Invitational - $1,550

     (requests from Central Kentucky Tiger Sharks)

  34.) U.S. 68 Garage Tour/U.S. 68 Cruise-In - $1,570

     (requests from Hardin's Garage)

  35.) DIS-Conformity Tour - $1,500

     (requests from Abundant Life Assembly)

  36.) Heart of Kentucky Cornhole Classic - $1,300

     (requests from Ray Osbourne)

  37.) Heart of Kentucky Native American Powwow - $1,200

     (requests from Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana)

  38.) The Bourbon Chase - $1,180

    

39.) Heart of Kentucky/Big Dawg Bridal Showcase - $1,100

     (requests from WVLC 99.9 FM The Big Dawg)

 

40.) Lebanon Invitational Tournaments - $1,050 (committed, not spent)

     (requests from Lebanon Family Resource Center)

 

41.) Kentucky State Fair Pride of the Counties booth - $1,010

     (requests by Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce)

  42.) 5th Region Baseball Tournament - $1,000

     (requests from Marion County High School Baseball)

 

43.) Marion County Public Library Genealogy Project - $1,000

     (requests from Marion County Public Library)

  44.) Downtown Gazebo Information Kiosk - $718.56   45.) Health Awareness Conference - $650

     (requests by Health Awareness Clinics)

 

46.) Heart of Kentucky Umpire/Scorekeeper Clinic - $600 (committed, not spent)

     (requests from Marion County Little League)

  47.) Heart of Kentucky Hoedown - $550

     (requests from Judy Gardner)

  48.) China Forum - $500

     (requests from Community Education)

 

49.) Heart of Kentucky/Farmers National Bank Tennis Open - $300

     (requests from Steve Humphress)

  50.) First Response Convention - $200

     (requests from Lebanon-Springfield Airport)

  51.) Trike Riders International Rally - $150

     (requests from Trike Riders International)

  52.) Heart of Kentucky Hike & Bike - $150

     (requests by Marion County Fitness & Nutrition Coalition)

  53.) Heart of Kentucky Aviation Celebration - $142.33

     (requests by Lebanon-Springfield Airport)

  54.) Kentucky Writers Day Celebration - $100

     (requests from Historic Penn's Store)

  TOTAL INVESTMENTS: $526,626.52  

TOTAL TAX MONIES COLLECTED: $1,848,646.03 has been collected since 2003.

  HOW THE REST IS SPENT:

     a.) Salaries/benefits - $540,106.53

     b.) Events/capital projects - $526,626.52

     c.) Advertising/promotions/public relations - $430,781.85

     d.) Office - $122,072.67

     e.) Rent/pre-paid facility rentals - $64,600

     f.) Legal and professional fees - $42,297.07

     g.) Misc. - $28,746.07

     h.) Travel and business expense - $21,488.10

     i.) Utilities - $16,385.24

     j.) Administrative commission - $16,330 (this is what tourism pays the City            of Lebanon to collect the taxes and payroll services).

     k.) Dues and subscriptions - $13,626.51

     l.) Printing and reproduction - $12,991

     m.) Postage - $9,217.77

     n.) Insurance - $421.33

* According to Hamilton, the tourism commission typically keeps $100,000 in the bank (approximately four months operating expenses).