County seeks tourism director

Firm finishes county tourism plan

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

The results are in, and there appears to be sufficient evidence to determine that Richmond County tourism efforts need a full-time director to group together elements from Norman and Ellerbe with attractions in Rockingham and Hamlet — and market those assets to the outside world.

If approved, this image could become the new logo for Richmond County tourism.

If approved, this image could become the new logo for Richmond County tourism.

Members of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority received a final version of an action plan — more than a year in the making — created by Arnett Muldrow & Associates, in Greenville, S.C., before the end of 2014. The plan was originally to be done by May 2014. Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump, however, shrugged off any concern about the delay and said it was worth waiting for a good plan.

“This is a plan that can work,” Crump said.

A key piece of the 53-page brand development and business strategy focuses on the use of the visitor center and its availability as a reliable go-to place for county tourism information. While a vote on approval of the plan won’t take place until the board’s February meeting, members have authorized being proactive.

The TDA began recruitment on Thursday of a full-time tourism director. Currently, the TDA is staffed by Crump, city events coordinator Kim Williams and city planner John Massey. However, those individuals receive no extra pay and work on countywide tourism only on a part-time basis.

Pending approving by the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority, a countywide tourism effort won't hinder each town's unique character.

Pending approving by the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority, a countywide tourism effort won’t hinder each town’s unique character.

The plan, as presented to TDA board members last week, wants to replace the three-person team with “an experienced self-starter and dynamic leader to direct and coordinate tourism development and promotion.” Pay will be between $50,000 and $60,000, depending on qualifications.

Crump said the firm, which was paid approximately $26,790, has provided a focus to the countywide tourism plan regarding all facets — branding, product development, visitor strategy and implementing a new community image.

The report is expected to be well worth the money spent. On a list that ranks the economic impact, in millions of dollars, in an eight-county area from 2011, Richmond County ranks third to last. According to the report, tourism had a $40.85 million impact in Richmond County while just to the north, Moore County reaped a windfall of more than $374 million.

Crump emphasized the area is not shifting away from attempting to lure new manufacturing or industrial jobs here. Instead, it’s taking advantage of natural and manmade attractions already in place. The visitor center, located at the corner of Highway Business 74 and U.S. Route 1 South, is to be used for tourism offices and as the hub of information for those attractions.

“The historic depot will once again become an important destination in Richmond County, while being the foundation of the city and the TDA’s efforts to increase tourism promotion countywide,” the report stated.

To engage visitors, however, the center must have a staff and a core group of volunteers. Far from final, the visitor center’s hours would be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday.

“It may not be possible early on to staff the center seven days a week,” the report acknowledged. “As the TDA builds staffing and programming, however, it will become more necessary. Weekend staffing is very important, and often occurs through securing volunteers.”

The RCTDA is fully funded by hotel/motel tax revenue. The county and city split equally a 6 percent tax on each night’s hotel stay.  The TDA is governed by a seven-member board chaired by County Manager Rick Sago. The board is comprised of four members appointed by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, two by Rockingham City Council and one from the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce. The TDA is fully funded by hotel/motel tax revenue by tacking on a 6 percent tax on each night’s hotel stay. It operates on an annual budget of approximately $225,000.

The board next meets at 11 a.m. on Feb. 10 at Rockingham City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

Other highlights of the plan, which was compiled after seeking public input as well as comment from stakeholders from across the Richmond County, include a plan for downtown Rockingham that builds on Discovery Place KIDS, the nonprofit children’s science museum that opened in February 2013.

The plan encourages the Rockingham Downtown Corporation, an advisory group comprised of business owners and stakeholders in the downtown area, to follow the Small Town Main Street Program model and apply for Small Town Main Street status. The group should then:

* Build off of Discovery Place KIDs as an anchor, such as recruiting complementary specialty businesses such as a toy store, ice cream shop dance studio, etc.;

* Begin to create a stronger arts presence in downtown. The report notes the presence of Arts Richmond and the Richmond Community Theatre “but with limited budgets and staffing, they cannot make the impact that they would like”;

Despite limited budgets, the report suggests tying art to economic development by placing temporary art hangings in windows of vacant structures downtown. Members of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation have discussed this possibility with interest but noted difficulty in contacting building owners’ and obtaining their permission.

* Recruit independent coffee shop to downtown and help equip it with high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi. This, too, has been discussed by Rockingham resident Lillie Lyde;

* Coordinate with Arts Richmond, Discovery Place KIDs and Richmond Community Theatre to facilitate a children’s arts-based festival in downtown;

* Look to expand Thursday Plaza Jam events to occur on occasion in downtown proper, likely on Washington Street.

 

 

Filed in: Arts & Entertainment, Business, Ellerbe/Norman, Hamlet, Health, Hoffman, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors, Rockingham

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