Chamber, city plan to take tourism in a new direction
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Oct. 4, 2005 -- Following several months of discussions with the city, the board of directors of Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce has voted to not continue as the supervising agency for tourism and development in Sulphur Springs.

Chamber Board Chairman Keith Shurtleff said the city had indicated concerns about the legality of the way the tourism department has been funded.

"It’s a complicated system where the city receives money from the hotel-motel tax and, through their advisory committee, turn around and allocate part of that money to the Chamber for the tourism director and his work," Shurtleff said. "What they said was that ... they are really going to have to take bids on that situation ... in order to be legal. That's what they told us."

Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell said he felt the city should seek bids for the tourism effort in order to meet the letter of state law, which requires competitive bidding for any contract involving $25,000 or more.

"The [city's tourism] board wants a focus on sporting events, specifically youth sporting events, and would really prefer that those events would be of a type that would bring people to town for more than one day," Maxwell said. "They want the type of sporting event that would capitalize on our two biggest sporting assets, the Civic Center and Coleman Park. They want to focus on non-sporting events utilizing the Civic Center and our lakes."

The city board also wants a contractor to maintain a booth at Canton and a system of tracking the visitors the contractor's efforts actually bring to town.

"We are not clear on exactly how to track it," Maxwell said. "I think what we are going to do is require the contractor to make a proposal on how to track visitors."

The city manager said the winning bidder would be offered a one-year contract with four one-year extensions. There would be an annual review for both parties to see if things are working as they should.

"The proposed language, at least as it stands now, says for the city's part, it will consult with merchants, restaurant owners and hotel owners to see what they think of the contractor's efforts so far," the city manager explained. "If anybody stands to benefit from the contractor's efforts, it will be those three groups, and they ought to know ... if they are seeing any improvement."

By not bidding for the tourism function, the Chamber chairman said, it would free up time for the Chamber's tourism commit tee and for its president to work on other Chamber functions rather than supervise the tourism director.

"We told [city officials] we will continue to take the calls and continue to do as much work as we possibly can to help transition this until the city gets somebody in place," Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff said current Tourism Director Frank Smith has been kept informed of the meetings on the issue. The Chamber had pledged to support Smith through the time a new contractor takes over the tourism effort and until he found another position.

Even after the tourism effort is taken over by a new contractor, Shurtleff said, Chamber efforts would continue.

"The Chamber is not out of the tourism business," he said. "We are still going to be very involved in tourism and are going to work with whoever the city puts in place to do that, but we are not going to have direct responsibility in oversight over the tourism office."

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