Tourism groups may take duties of Downtown Salisbury Inc.

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — In a strategic restructuring, the Salisbury and Rowan County tourism authorities plan to take over marketing for Downtown Salisbury Inc., which will focus instead on economic development and retail recruitment.
If approved by the city and county tourism boards, Betz McKeown, DSI marketing and promotions manager, will become the fourth full-time employee at the Rowan County Convention & Visitors Bureau on July 1.
“This makes it easier for us to accomplish our goal of making downtown a flagship,” said James Meacham, executive director.
McKeown will continue to promote downtown’s 14 annual events like Night Out. But she would take a more active role in the arts community, a growing sector in the tourism market.
She would serve as the staff person for the Rowan Arts Council, which the Convention & Visitors Bureau took over last year.
The change would allow Randy Hemann, DSI executive director, to focus more on economic development and recruiting stores and restaurants to downtown.
Hemann will become the only employee of DSI.
The city and county tourism authorities met jointly Wednesday, when members unanimously approved promoting downtown Salisbury and marketing arts and culture throughout Rowan County, pending a formal agreement.
The change avoids redundant marketing efforts by DSI and the Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Mark Lewis, chairman for the Salisbury Tourism Development Authority and vice chairman for the DSI board.
“When the TDA became such a marketing and promotion powerhouse, it made sense for us not to have duplicated efforts in two different organizations,” Lewis said.
Tourism would absorb McKeown’s position, plus the downtown marking and promotion budget, which total about $85,000.
Annual business sponsorships for downtown events will contribute about $25,000, and the tourism budget would cover the balance, Meacham said.
Tourism’s projected budget for the coming fiscal year is $825,000, up from $305,000 just six years ago. Revenue jumped in 2009 when the city formed its own tourism authority and the hotel occupancy tax doubled.
The two authorities pool about $630,000 annually. The remainder of the budget comes from the trolley program and funding for the Rowan Arts Council.
When the Courtyard Marriott opens in 2013, tourism’s budget is expected to grow by another $120,000, once the hotel reaches peak annual occupancy in 2014 or 2015, Meacham said. The city and county authorities each levy a 3 percent tax on hotel rooms.
Wednesday’s restructuring and additional focus on arts and culture come as part of the pending tourism master plan.
Expected to run 90 pages, the document will not be complete until next month, but tourism leaders have been moving toward changes suggested by consultants who have been working on the plan for months.
After several successful partnerships with the tourism authorities on promotional campaigns, DSI began to explore a more permanent arrangement, Hemann said.
“I view this as a win-win situation for the community,” he said.
Tourism has done a “great job” promoting Salisbury and Rowan through the “Authentic North Carolina” brand, he said.
“Their growing budget and desire to do more promotion makes this a perfect fit,” Hemann said. “It will allow each organization to grow in their areas of competency.”
Hemann praised McKeown and said she will be an asset for the tourism office “as they grow that segment of the local economy.”
DSI’s potential new focus on economic development does not change Meacham’s plan to allocate between $30,000 and $50,000 to RowanWorks Economic Development in next year’s tourism budget, he said.
The master plan will emphasize the need for additional business marketing, Meacham said. More than 85 percent of people who spend the night in Rowan County hotels are business travelers.
“From the TDA’s perspective, we will have resources in the right places,” Meacham said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

Tourism budget

Fiscal year 2006-07 $305,000
Projected fiscal year 2012-13 $825,000

Funding sources:
Rowan Tourism Authority $330,000
Salisbury Tourism Authority $300,000
Rowan Arts Council $110,000
Trolley program  $45,000
Downtown Salisbury sponsorships  $25,000
Cooperative programs  $15,000