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Arnett Muldrow kick-off

Residents: Camden a ‘gracious lady’ though not ‘living up to potential’

Posted: September 19, 2013 2:42 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2013 1:00 a.m.

How to define Camden? That is the central question surrounding a new effort to market the city to tourists that kicked off Wednesday night at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse. Using a series of three “fun” questions, Tripp Muldrow, of Greenville-based marketing firm Arnett Muldrow, got most of about 75 residents to help describe Camden:

• If England’s Kate and William and baby Prince George came to South Carolina and only had 15 minutes to visit Camden, what would you want them to see?

• If you had a magic wand to change one thing to make Camden better, what would it be?

• How would you describe Camden as a person?

Arnett Muldrow will take the answers to those questions with them -- along with information gathered from a series of interviews with as many as 40 stakeholders and others -- and use them to help form a marketing strategy for the city.

The evening began with an introduction by Mayor Tony Scully, who described himself as a “4-year-old jumping up and down” with excitement about the kick-off.

“This is, I believe, a transformational moment for our city,” Scully said, adding that the firm will be working in Camden several times during the next three months. “With Arnett Muldrow, we’re talking about our identity, our brand, our future. We’re talking about focus, we’re talking about mission, we’re talking about ourselves as members of the global marketplace. The operative question here is: who do we imagine we are and where do we think we’re going.”

Scully said the firm recognizes there are at least eight previous plans -- a number that elicited some laughter from the audience -- to improve Camden.

“Unlike a typical marketing agency, Arnett Muldrow understands the complexities and the layers and the layers and the layers of community issues. Given their success in Greenville and Greer and Beaufort, among other South Carolina cities, we welcome them here as honored guests. They will help us focus on our strengths and our assets,” Scully said.

He said before the city can market itself to the region and even the world market, it needs a “clearer and more focused sense of who we are,” and that focusing on market identity is what Arnett Muldrow does best.

Scully then introduced Muldrow; Tee Coker, an urban planner with Arnett Muldrow; and Bob Brookover, the executive director of the S.C. Recreation Development project and the International Institute for Tourism Research and Development, who is assisting with Camden’s effort.

Muldrow explained that the evening’s exercises were designed to “get at something particular we need to know.” He said the questions would help his firm understand Camden’s market, analyze the tourism industry and how to “tell the story (of Camden) in a way that’s compelling, in a way that you’re proud to tell the story, a way that will entice not only you to tell it, but people to respond to it.”

Among the many answers people gave to what places or events to show off to the young royals and their son were the Camden Polo Field, Carolina Downhome Blues Festival, Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park, Lyttleton Street and its homes, the Battle of Camden site north of the city, Price House, Robert Mills Courthouse, Aberdeen, the Camden Archives and Museum’s gun collection, Camden Military Academy and Woodward Field, the annual reenactment of the Battle of Camden, Hermitage Farms Shooting Sports and the Carolina Motorsports Park.

“There’s lots to show here,” Muldrow commented, as others added Rectory Square, the Kershaw County Farmers Market, Millpond Restaurant, Camden’s downtown antique shops and the Camden Country Club to the list.

The first two answers to the “magic wand” question of what to change to improve Camden were “bring back the opera house” and “recreate the Court Inn hotel.” Someone else said they’d like to see a riverwalk/greenway planned at Camden’s water treatment plant come to fruition. Other answers included restoring the railway station near DeKalb and Chesnut Ferry Ext., removing any buildings that block Historic Camden’s potential National Park Service status, improving the city’s gateways, creating in-car and/or smartphone app tours of Camden, having a mini-series or movie about Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut made, Wateree River tours, adding a downtown hotel and conference center, moving all utilities underground, having sidewalk cafés, a true by-pass around Camden, narrowing Broad Street between York and DeKalb streets, improving access to the Wateree River and improve second floors of downtown buildings to attract more business to Camden.

One woman wished there was a way to promote more of Camden’s unique businesses, but said people often don’t want to promote one business to the possible detriment of others.

“I appreciate you bringing that up, because one of the things we do explore is how do we do that while also promoting everybody,” Muldrow said.

The wish list went on to include improving Goodale State Park, having the city and county work together on a sports arena, expanding Central Carolina Technical College’s presence here -- prompting Muldrow to comment that Camden felt, to him, “almost like a college town” -- having safer bike/pedestrian paths and even having a Ritz Carlton on the Wateree.

Someone also brought up the idea of creating a brochure that would be available at as many places and events as possible that would tell tourists not only where to shop, but where to eat and stay and point out places to visit in Camden.

Those in attendance appeared to have the most fun with the last exercise, where Muldrow had them personify different cities before coming back to Camden. He started with Columbia. Participants described the capital city as a messy girl or woman, a survivor who’s recovered (“but not quite all the way”), suffers from an inferiority complex, is educated, probably married to a lawyer, very political, a foodie and controlling.

Muldrow then moved on to Sumter, which the group decided is a military guy who likes to hunt, can be rude, is not very handsome but, rather, rough around the edges, scattered and disorganized, has some buddies to do the hard work for him, is into recreation (especially swimming), aggressive and is a chance-taker.

Next, Aiken. Definitely a lady who likes to shop and has a sense of style, is very progressive but can put on airs, is an equestrian, has the -- as Muldrow put it -- “little issue in her backyard” of nuclear waste, is well-groomed, drives a Jaguar, is competitive and not afraid to tell her story.

Finally, it was Camden’s turn. A lady, participants decided, gracious, shy, stylish and can throw a party. She’s well-educated and welcoming, has a long family tree and friends all over the world, loves antiques, dogs and horses and is community-minded.

Some people’s answers contradicted others’. One person said Camden was “capable and industrious” while another said she was “old and tired;” yet a third said she was “not living up to her potential.” One person said Camden is diverse, but another said she needed to be more broad-minded while yet a third said she needed to improve race relations. Despite having a sense of “style,” others said she needs a stylist and jewelry. She has children that are leaving, but is “stand-offish” to the younger generation.

Other descriptors included being cliquish, patriotic, faith-based, eccentric, is having an internal debate about needing to do something and is a member of many different kinds of clubs (sewing, bridge, garden and hunting, to name a few). Someone even said Camden is on Prozac and Xanax while drinking cocktails. Another said people who live outside her home have to “run the gauntlet” to get to know her, but once they do, can talk with her “over the fence.”

Finally, one man said Camden “has had years of experience with makeover artists who have given her ideas of how to make herself over, but most of those have been put on the shelf … she knows she has to move, but she’s got so much information … she can’t decide which way to go.”

That elicited a round of applause from the audience, and prompted Muldrow to reiterate that his firm is “keenly aware” of the previous plans.

“Our focus is somewhat more narrow. Ours is a tourism study, so we’re definitely looking at tourism-specific related items. We also have very specific deliverables that we’ll be creating as far as image building and actual tools that will be products,” Muldrow said. “This is not just a plan to sit on the shelf; it’s a set of tools that go in the toolbox.”

He said Brookover will be working on creating a baseline so the city can measure the growth of the tourism industry in Camden.

“That’s critically important. We talk about not knowing where to go. If we don’t have where we are now, we won’t know that we’ve gone anywhere. That’s part of what we’ll be working on in addition to those tools. One of the things we’re going to be particularly sensitive to in this implementation strategy is taking the best of what’s been done before and not throwing it out the window, but helping you figure out how to do it,” Muldrow said, adding that they have worked in many communities recovering from disasters, such as those on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

“I say that because these communities have been planned and planned and planned to death. We also say they’ve been through the ‘charetter.’ Our task in those communities is very clear: do not put any recommendation down that you cannot identify who’s going to do it, when it’s going to get done and how you’re going to pay for it.”

Muldrow ended by thanking those present and informing them that there would be future meetings where his firm will present some of its findings and recommendations.

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