At their Sept. 4 meeting, the Franklin County Tourist Development Council passed a single motion recommending the renewal of all vendor contracts.
During a discussion of the proposed TDC Grant and Marketing Budget, a motion to renew contracts for the visitor centers also passed, unanimously.
TDC board member Chester Reese said the recommendations for renewal were based on past performance. TDC board member Beverly Hewitt was opposed
“We talk about how to increase jobs. I truly believe we need to look at individual contracts. Some of them are open-ended,” said Judy Stokowski, a representative of the Water Street Hotel who attended the TDC meeting with group of Apalachicola lodging providers. “We should ask ‘Are there new people in the community that can do some of this work?’ I think we owe it to county residents and to our young people to look at contracts and see if we can we save money by renegotiation.”
District 1 Commissioner Pinki Jackel, who chairs the TDC board, said reviewing vendor contracts would not necessarily save money because some vendors, for example the visitor centers, receive a preset stipend.
“Some of what our contract providers do is an ongoing service,” she said. “Some of what we’ve been doing is not any different from what we will be doing. We feel like they do a good job. Every penny that we spend is open to public records. You can make a public records request and see every cent. It is somewhat a question of integrity to say the public doesn’t know how we spend money.”
Board member Cal Allen of Carrabelle said that “there’s a difference between street talk and seat talk. When we’re sitting in these seats, we have information. We have the law before us.”
The discussion turned to changes in marketing of events sponsored by nonprofits.
TDC Director Curt Blair said, under the new scheme, each of the 28 not-for-profit groups requesting funds for 51 events would receive $500 in advertising assistance, regardless of how many events they planned for the year. He said that with the end of BP funding, the TDC could no longer afford to award small grants as has been done in the past.
TDC Administrative Assistant Fran Edwards said, that in order to save money, the TDC would purchase blocks of advertising in media outlets.
Cindy Clark of Bay Media, the design firm charged with creating ads for the not-for-profits, said ads would be displayed during the month prior to the event. The not-for-profits will not pay an additional fee for these ads.
Several members of the audience expressed concerns that the new system of advertising would not reach their target market.
“The not-for-profits are really going to suffer,” said Terry Kemp, of the St. George Island Lighthouse Association. “We spent nearly $2,000 on advertising for the (Island) Tour of Homes last year.”
In a telephone interview, Clark said that “advertising assistance consists of a combination of print, videography and internet assistance. The estimated value (of the advertising package) is more than $500. Staff will be presenting a recommended list of local and regional advertising venues as identified by the grant applicants. We’re trying hard to accommodate requests by event organizers to individually advertise their event.”
Jackel told the TDC that “with so many events coming to the board and the amount of money dwindling from cycle to cycle, this was the only way. I think there’s a lot of clarification we need to do. We really need to nail this down for everybody. I’d like to see it in a written narrative distributed at the (Sept. 18) marketing meeting.”
The TDC board also unanimously passed a motion to renew all sustaining and seed grants in the 2013-14 budget. Seed grants of $10,000 go to Apalachicola’s Center for History Culture and the Arts, housed in the former Cotton Exchange and the Carrabelle History Museum. Sustaining grants of $20,000 support the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, the Crooked River Lighthouse, The Dixie Theatre, the Raney House Museum and The St. George Island Lighthouse.
Eastpoint Visitor Center
Next, Jackel raised the topic of a visitor center for Eastpoint to be located in the former Florida Highway Patrol building located at 731 US 98. “One thing that needs to be added (to the budget) is a visitor center in Eastpoint,” she said.
Blair said the funding was in the general budget.
Hewitt, who holds the seat earmarked for the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, said she had “several phone calls from concerned citizens that it’s not money well spent to put a visitor center in an area with no focal point.”
Jackel replied that the county commission “has discussed the use of the building and approved the search for $90,000 by the TDC.”
Blair offered further details on the funding. “Every year we have (money left after the budget is met). Over the years, we’ve built up a reserve. I’m sure that’s in the neighborhood of $150,000 and we’re going to look at that. I can’t tell you how much more there is. It kind of depends how the summer plays out.”
Hewitt said that “most of the other centers are housed in centers owned by chambers.” Jackel said the St. George Island visitor center is housed in a county building.
Hewitt asked who would maintain the Eastpoint building, and Jackel said that “it is my understanding that whoever occupies the building will pay for that.”
Reese, who is from Carrabelle, said that “talking about the visitor center, I think it has to do with vision. I think the county commission looked at it and said here’s a central area that may transition into something that was for the whole county rather than a location. It’s something that has to be developed. I think it’s worth the initiative.
“We’re the Franklin County TDC. That’s what we’re trying to do, is develop tourism. We are not a rubber stamp council,” he said.
“I kind of started the Eastpoint visitor center idea,” said Jackel. “I feel very strongly about this. First of all, that is a beautiful property with a view of the water. It’s an open door into Franklin County. With the proper signage, that is the front door of visitors coming into Franklin County. It’s an educational opportunity. Something that we can do that establishes historic nature of the county for the maritime trades and for seafood.
“Ninety thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket to the thousands of dollars we’re pouring into (Apalachicola). A little spit and polish goes a long way and it will create jobs. It will be run like a business’ it will all be worked out. We will not get ripped off. Eastpoint is one of the most beautiful gems we have, a diamond in the rough.”
Jackel said she is in negotiation with the “bank that owns most of the waterfront property” in Eastpoint. She said removing derelict buildings is under discussion. “We have to take baby steps,” she said.
TDC board member Paul Parker of Alligator Point said the additional visitor center is important. “People come off the island to eat in a restaurant or buy gas and they can use it to get oriented (in the county),” he said.
“(The county) has so little property and these little properties we can get back are important. We need to create jobs,” Jackel said.
Collins to step down
At the same meeting, Alice Collins of St. George Island, who has served on the TDC since its inception in 2005 announced that she would retire from the board.
Reese moved to advertise for a replacement and Frank Cook of Apalachicola seconded.
Stokowski said that the “bed tax providers of Apalachicola” requested a seat on the TDC. She asked the board to consider an amendment to replace Collins with an Apalachicola lodging provider. She presented the board with a document explaining the request.
“In my opinion, for this board to make this change, we need a legal opinion,” Jackel said. “This document has not gone before the county attorney. I believe there has to be a public hearing to change the ordinance. This is tabled for today until we can get clarification.”
Reese objected to the request, pointing out that Carrabelle and St. George Island also have hotels. Stokowski then asked that the advertisement for a replacement for Collins be tabled until the request could be considered.
“It’s up to the motioners to withdraw,” said Jackel.
Lynn Spohrer, owner of Apalachicola’s Coombs House Inn said that “we’re not trying to exclude Carrabelle. Apalachicola housing has never had a seat on the TDC in eight years. We’re not asking for a change of ordinance, just special consideration.”
Jackel said that “it would have been fairer to look at this as an agenda item.”
Reese said that “you are as free as anyone else to nominate someone. This is an open deal; it’s not for any cartel or group to say you need to elect one of us.”
Hewitt said that “I think what they’re saying is that Alligator Point and Carrabelle have had representatives. Apalachicola has never had a seat.”
“Who do you represent?” pressed Jackel.
Hewitt responded that she represented “the chamber.”
“The Apalachicola Chamber,” said Jackel.
Hewitt said she represented the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce with members in Apalachicola, Eastpoint and on St. George Island.
“I have been on this board since the beginning and we have examined every application that came through,” Collins said. “We have never excluded Apalachicola. I think you should all apply.”
The motion to advertise the vacancy stood and passed unanimously.