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By Melissa Knight, Guest columnist
After reading the article, "Tourism changes in the works," which appeared in The Lebanon Enterprise on Wed., April 27, I feel compelled to respond with concerns I and many others I know have about what is happening politically with the Lebanon Tourist & Convention Commission (tourism).
In the article, Tourism Commissioner Tom Lund made remarks about tourism having "opportunities to work with Maker's Mark and with a micro-distillery that plans to open in Marion County this year" and "wildlife management area that opened last fall may provide an opportunity to work with the state to attract visitors to the county." I am confused by these statements because they imply that tourism is not already doing this.
As a concerned citizen and a Centre Square Foundation Board member, I keep up with tourism's activities and initiatives very closely and, according to tourism's very own commission meeting packets and reports I have read, tourism already works regularly with Maker's Mark/Team Bourbon/Bourbon Country and that work has produced great results. For example, they persuaded a change in directions to Maker's Mark Distillery to come through Lebanon from the east rather than Bardstown. They got Lebanon added to the official Bourbon Trail map, regularly book bourbon getaway packages and, according to the statistics, the Visit Lebanon Web site drives the most traffic to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Web site. Furthermore, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association, Lebanon is the No. 2 city for lodging on the trail now behind only Bardstown.
According to reports made by the tourism executive director, he has met with Stephen Beam, the micro-distiller to which Mr. Lund refers, talked to him on the phone, provided information and answers and answered questions from a potential funding source. So tourism already has an active connection to the micro-distillery in the works.
Tourism also already works on wildlife area development. According to presentations the executive director has made to local groups, outdoor/adventure tourism is the fastest growing segment of tourism. Tourism has been a key player in the Cecil L. Gorley Naturalist Trail Rehabilitation & Expansion Project at Fagan Branch. In fact, Executive Director Chris Hamilton wrote and won a $100,000 grant to pay for the project and tourism also put in $10,000.
As a Centre Square Foundation Board member, I can tell you we value tourism's efforts. Records show that tourism is active in using Centre Square as a valuable tool in recruiting, jump-starting and assisting events. In the past 12-16 months alone, I can think of many events which occurred at Centre Square due to tourism's efforts or aid including the Darkwoods Con Film Festival, KACVB Spring Conference, KFEA Conference, Health Awareness Clinics Conference, Heart of Kentucky Antique & Craft Fair, Heart of Kentucky/John Cox Martial Arts Masters Workshop, Heart of Kentucky Christian Music Festival, Mid-Kentucky Chorus Concert, Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute Class IV interviews, Central Ky. Agritourism Association quarterly meeting, Heart of Kentucky Bourbon & BBQ Musicfest, Lebanon Fire School, The Keffers in concert and Fishing For Kids regional conference.
Lund is a brilliant executive director for economic development but as a tourism commissioner I don't understand what is meant by his generalizations like "tourism wasn't going in the direction [I] thought it should" and "we just need to keep it on the right track." Does this mean there is simply dissention and disagreement among the tourism commissioners about what that direction should be? Does this mean the tourism executive director is not carrying out the mission and/or directives that the commission has set forth? If so, please give the public specific examples of when this has happened because none of any such instances are reflected in tourism commission board minutes I have read.
City council members should also be compelled to explain generalizations made in public city council meetings, which are not substantiated by facts and statistics. For example, if Councilman Jay Grundy does not "condone the actions taken by Mr. Hamilton" then he should explain, specifically, what actions to which he is referring. If Councilman Jerry Abell feels tourism has "had eight years to get it right" then he should further specify what he specifically thinks they are doing wrong.
Frankly, it seems very unfair to the tourism commissioners, and their executive director, that they must continue to endure insults, accusations and implications made in public without any statistical or factual evidence to support them. As I have said, all the data I have read in The Lebanon Enterprise and received both from the city and state level tell a very different story about tourism in Lebanon - a story of progress and success. I am simply asking for the city council and unhappy tourism commissioners to clarify why they are disgruntled with tourism in the first place before they consider changing, or worse, eliminating it.