County’s tourism includes updates, new guidelines for long-term plan

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 8/17/22

CLAY COUNTY – A plan to shape, improve and guide tourism in Clay County is underway.

The recent Tourism Development Council meeting included a presentation from the firm CSL, Conventions, Sports …

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County’s tourism includes updates, new guidelines for long-term plan

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – A plan to shape, improve and guide tourism in Clay County is underway.

The recent Tourism Development Council meeting included a presentation from the firm CSL, Conventions, Sports and Leisure International, which is responsible for the five-year plan.

CSL’s Tyler Othen said the firm surveyed more than 500 residents and about 40 stakeholders. They also reviewed the area’s hotels, events, attractions and competition.

“We looked at what niches Clay County could tap into,” Othen said.

He said there are several ways to enhance tourism and the survey responses helped. Residents scored possible concepts including a waterfront entertainment district, unique restaurants and an outdoor waterpark, which were the three highest scored items. Recreation was well-represented further with bike paths, an adventure park and an outdoor concert venue also scoring high.

“You can see that a lot of the ideas that scored very highly are quality of life assets,” Othen said.

He said linking the county’s tourism and residents’ needs is a challenge, though there is some overlap with activities for both. CSL was conducting interviews and research studies related to family entertainment, amateur sports, and arts and culture events in the county.

He used soccer, a sport dominated by private expensive clubs at the youth level, as an example. Though the sport is appreciated with various amateur teams in Jacksonville over the years and infrequent men and women U.S. National Team visits, the area does not have a hub for youth levels of the sport. Clay could take advantage of that, Othen said.

“There’s just a lack of indoor facilities especially,” he said. “That’s an exciting opportunity.”

Board chairman Mike Cella called the plan edifying and said he was eager for more. A full version of the plan will be available next month, Othen said.

In other business, the TDC examined grant guidelines recommendations for sporting events. Tourism Director Kimberley Morgan recommended a maximum amount of $35,000 for sports-related grants, which are different from reimbursable grants for special or signature events.

The board also unanimously approved allowing event-holders to enter multi-year agreements with the county.

Committee members later reviewed its bed tax collections. From January to June, the county collected $1,238,105 in bed tax. That figure is $199,310 greater than 2021’s January-to-June year-to-date number.

April 2022 collection was the highest ever monthly bed tax collection at $161,106. Collections have not dipped below $116,000 during the first six months of the year. The average monthly collection, going as far back as 2016, usually hovers between $80,000-$102,000.

“April and May are the highest we’ve ever had on record,” Morgan said. “… We are really excited about that. That’s setting us on pace to meet and exceed the $1.5 million we projected for collecting this fiscal year.”

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