Decisions, decisions

TDC grapples with how to implement tourism master plan

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 12/5/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Discussion around a proposal to revamp the Clay County Fairgrounds and other local amenities continues to be a balancing act for the Tourist Development Council.

The plan …

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Decisions, decisions

TDC grapples with how to implement tourism master plan

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Discussion around a proposal to revamp the Clay County Fairgrounds and other local amenities continues to be a balancing act for the Tourist Development Council.

The plan made its way back to the TDC’s Nov. 28 meeting after getting initial acceptance on Nov. 27 from the Board of County Commissioners. As presented, the master plan calls for about $22 million in improvements at the county fairgrounds and other venues in order to boost tourism locally. Now the TDC discussion moves to decide which project suggested in the master plan to tackle first.

“We waited a long time for our study,” said Mike Cella, TDC chairman and county commissioner. “We got it, we got the increase in bed tax to move us forward in some of these things, and that’s why we bring up the plan today. In terms of setting priorities over the next 10 years, where do we start? How do we proceed? That’s where you folks weigh in.”

Ten years is how long the BCC and TDC expect the fairgrounds updates to take, which at this point, is simply an estimate. The plan will be put into action in phases, to accommodate costs – the BCC said they can’t just drop $22 million all at once at their most recent meeting – and upcoming fairground events.

Cella said it’s important that when the TDC sets priorities, it keeps not only cost and funding at the forefront of the conversation but planning as well.

“We don’t want a lot of construction going on around one of our key events,” Cella said.

During the Nov. 27 BCC meeting, commissioners said they’d like to see the exhibit hall retrofitted and upgraded before anything else. Currently, the exhibit hall finds itself often booked for things like company events. Despite those bookings, the hall is void of a kitchen and bathrooms, which not only creates an inconvenience for guests, but prevents some organizations from booking the hall. If bathrooms and a kitchen were added to the hall, Kimberly Morgan, the Clay County Director of Tourism, said she is confident even more bookings would come.

“The 50-meter target is we know there already is demand for the thing and the cost to retrofit it isn’t as much as building a brand-new building,” commissioner Gavin Rollins said during the Nov. 27 BCC meeting. “So, that to me, is a given, a low-hanging fruit. Let’s move forward with that and then the other stuff in this plan can be hashed out moving forward.”

At the TDC meeting the following day, the council echoed this sentiment. After bathrooms and a kitchen, though, the TDC wants to retrofit the exhibit hall based on suggestions from the master plan. This would see the exhibit hall transformed into a building that looks like a red barn, with three exhibit halls within and a wraparound porch. This would go along with the master plan theme for the fairgrounds, which would see the agricultural roots of the fairground at the forefront of design.

Beyond that, though, they found themselves in agreement over TDC member Kathy White’s suggestion.

“This [open-air auditorium] is not expensive to do,” White said. “This is basically terracing...and to also put a platform out there. That is not expensive...it’s just building terraces and making seating availability so that would be a quick fix. The exhibit hall is going to take a little bit more because of the modification. That [open-air auditorium] does not take long to do there because everything is open.”

Council member Gi Teevan said the TDC should look at the cost to build something and how quickly the returns come in. Teevan said the exhibit hall could bring more in tourism dollars in the long run but would take longer to complete. She recommended tackling the auditorium because it could be built quicker and any funds it brings in could help with future fairground construction costs.

While the fairgrounds master plan was the center of discussion during the Nov. 28 TDC meeting, the council did not make any official decisions. Further research into funding and construction is needed before anything official is decided, according to Cella.

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