Monday, April 22, 2013

Tourism panel drops idea of a Midway chamber of commerce, likes plan to have city tourism agency

By Julia Myers
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The new Midway Tourism Committee has decided not to pursue creating a Midway chamber of commerce, but is still looking into the possibility of starting its own tourism commission. 

While a countywide chamber of commerce does exist, it’s a common feeling in Midway that the town is often under-represented and overlooked in favor of its larger neighbor and county seat, Versailles.

Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth, in an effort to reaffirm the city’s presence in Woodford County, asked City Council Member Grayson Vandegrift to look into the idea of creating a separate Midway tourism commission. 

Vandegrift, general manager of his family’s restaurant, 815 Prime, put together a small tourism committee of himself and two other business owners.  The council member says that they are still very much in the research phase of creating a commission.

According to Vandegrift, a Midway tourism commission would “tax visitors to make our community better, and the expenditures would have to be spent on tourism-related things.”  With the prospect of the county’s first hotel coming to Midway, a Midway tourism commission could collect more room-tax revenue than the county commission.

“Theoretically, if funds were raised down the road, the tourism committee could buy a building downtown and turn it into a community center, which could be used for tourism-related things as well as resident-related things,” said Vandegrift.  “It would benefit everybody, and that’s why we’re looking at it.”

In addition to Vandegrift, members include Merchants Association President Kenny Smith and business owner Clare McCarthy.  Smith says his experience in a variety of businesses gives him “expertise in attracting and serving visitors of our fair city.”

Vandegrift and Smith met last month to discuss their options.  McCarthy wasn’t able to attend, but Vandegrift said they would “fill her in on the details.”

The meeting was “definitely a good starting point,” according to Vandegrift, but they ultimately decided that the idea of a chamber of commerce wasn’t something that they should further pursue. 

“We just kind of concluded that the chamber of commerce was not necessary, and it seemed redundant,” said Vandegrift.  “We already have a county chamber, and we also have a merchants association, which is essentially the same thing.”

Smith agreed, saying that a Midway chamber would be repetitive.  He does, however, believe that creating a tourism commission “could be very beneficial in attracting new visitors to the community.”

Smith said that last month’s meeting was mainly for informational purposes.  They are just beginning to understand the available avenues and the guidelines they would need to follow if they pursued the idea. 

Attracting tourists is one responsibility of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, which gets most of the money that the county tourism commission collects in taxes on room rentals because the income isn’t enough to hire someone to work for the commission, Vandegrift said at Monday’s special council meeting.

The chamber recently hired as its executive director Don Vizi, who previously served as executive director of the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce and the chamber in Gulf Breeze, Fla. 

Vizi says he plans on getting the cities together  and wants to avoid having any conflicts with Midway and Versailles events.  “I’ve heard the rumor about trying to split up these two cities in the county,” Vizi said in a recent interview.  “I totally disagree with it.”

The chamber hopes to have events in Midway, such as a chamber expo.  “We’re looking at a location in Midway to host that,” said Vizi.

Putting together a “taste of Woodford County” is also on the chamber’s to-do list.  Vizi says that because Midway has so many restaurants, it would likely host the event.  “It’s a matter of maybe trying to get the restaurants there to get re-active with the chamber,” he said.  “That’s one of my big priorities is to talk with the merchants of Midway.”

Bozarth says he has yet to hear from Vizi, other than a “request for a $2,000 donation” to the chamber, and he and Vandegrift noted that Vizi didn’t make it to the most recent Midway merchants’ meeting.

Both men said they oppose making the donation, and  Bozarth said, “I wouldn’t even consider giving them a dollar until they did and internal audit on their books.”
During the five months prior to Vizi’s hire, the chamber had been inactive.  “I can’t deal with what happened with the chamber before,” he said.  “My plans are that Midway is exactly the same as Versailles; it just happens to be that my office is here.”

Bozarth said, “I don’t think anything will ever change.  “That’s why I think it will be good for us to have a tourism commission.”

Vizi says that would be extremely expensive and time-consuming.  “It is a very extensive proposition to put together a separate tourism commission for Midway, the same if someone were to want to put a separate chamber for Midway,” he said.  “You’d lose out on the community itself – the whole Woodford County.” 

Vandegrift said he could understand why Vizi wouldn’t recommend two chambers of commerce, but that there are several counties that have successfully implemented two tourism commissions. (He said he did not know of any cases in which a city commission exists in a county with a countywide commission. There is at least one: Burnside and Pulaski County, on Lake Cumberland.

“There are a lot of counties that have two cities and each has a tourism commission.  Each one might be able to bring different things to the table,” said Vandegrift.  “And they could still work together in a lot of ways.  Either way, a tourism commission in Midway would also be promoting Woodford County as a whole.”

Vizi acknowledges that he needs to Midway’s faith in the chamber and persuade “everybody to work together.”  He wants Midway to know that it’s part of the community, and that Versailles is not trying to compete with it.

“I have to build up confidence for the chamber in Midway,” he said.  “The only way I can do that is to talk with the members up there, talk with Midway tourism, talk with the Midway Merchants Association, and the mayor, and to let them know that the chamber is not a Versailles chamber. “

Vizi said that he and the chamber are committed to bringing the community together.  “I think it’s just very important,” he said.  “Midway is a very important part of Woodford County.”

Vandegrift said that he has still not spoken with Vizi about the issue.

Although Vandegrift initially wanted to speak to the rest of the city council this month and present a recommendation for a tourism commission, he now says that they’re going to push it back because they need more information and the potential sale of the city water system “needs to be our number one priority.” 

Vandegrift says the committee will continue to meet every month or two to continue researching and planning, but as of now, it’s still a “long term goal.”

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