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Marketing Camden - Part 2 of 2

Firm suggests creating tourism board, county HTAX

Posted: December 13, 2013 5:21 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Camden City Council spent two hours during its Dec. 10 work session hearing Arnett Muldrow’s initial tourism marketing plan recommendations. In this second of two reports on that presentation, the C-I looks at the Greenville-based firm’s suggestions concerning organization and funding, data collection and analysis, and the questions asked and concerns raised by council members and others during the meeting.

Themed tourism packages combining the arts, culture, history, sports and recreation, and African-American contributions could be a new way to attract visitors to Camden in the future. In that future, advertisements -- on billboards, in magazines and elsewhere -- could use the city’s new brand, “Camden: Classically Carolina.”

But how to organize it all? That was the subject, among others, discussed by Arnett Muldrow’s Tripp Muldrow and Clemson University’s Bob Brookover during the second half of their Dec. 10 presentation to Camden City Council.

Muldrow and Brookover suggested that the city hire a tourism director -- something it is already thinking of doing -- and that the director work under Luther for the first two years before reporting directly to the city manager. They also suggested that the city’s Hospitality Tax (HTAX) Committee be replaced with a tourism board that would also work on tourism related issues year-round.

Along with that, Brookover strongly urged the city to work with Kershaw County on collecting hospitality taxes (HTAX) in order to create a dedicated revenue stream to support tourism.

Brookover said the tourism committee, or board, could eventually transform into a semi-autonomous nonprofit tourism bureau. He said it would operate similarly to the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, which he and Muldrow said the city should continue supporting.

Brookover said the city HTAX Committee should be dissolved to be replaced by the tourism board. Muldrow pointed out that such a board would have expanded duties beyond simply allocating HTAX funds, working year-round on tourism initiatives. The board would be made up of representatives appointed by city and county councils and the chamber of commerce, they said. Brookover said the city should also continue to strongly support the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce.

“That relationship remains strong,” Brookover said.

“We’re making this recommendation for several reasons,” Muldrow added. “One, traditionally it’s been there. Second, it’s a splendid piece of architecture that needs to be seen. Third, it is inside the community, it is not on the periphery of the community, so we really do want people to get in to the city.”

Muldrow said, often, such organizations are used by visitors much like a restaurant or gas station -- “as a rest stop” -- getting information on other communities and not the one they are in.

Other recommendations in this regard are to require “mandated collaboration” among prospective HTAX grantees in order to justify the impact of those HTAX funds; and to create a hospitality training program with the assistance of local high school hospitality students so that restaurant employees and others would be better to direct visitors to attractions in and around Camden.

“Also, doing something as simple as a business card-sized, index card-sized items at locations like service stations … that has a QR code they can scan with their smartphone for more information and then, on the other side, a ‘Top 5 Things To Do in Camden,’” Brookover said.

To accomplish everything Brookover and Muldrow suggested, the city would need reliable data from which to make decisions and chart progress. Brookover suggested the city implement electronic surveys, perhaps conducted through iPads at major attractions and events. Those surveys, he said, could capture zip codes, visitors’ purposes for being in Camden, how much they estimated to be spending during their visit, and more.

“This would tell you … this is what the average visitor to Camden looks like -- they are a party of four, they stayed for 2.1 days, and they spend X on lodging, X on dining and, overall, they spend this much,” Brookover said.

Muldrow said this, in a way, replaces something that used to be done in Camden decades ago.

“One of my favorite experiences at the Archives (was finding that) the mayors of Camden during the ’50s and ’60s, would place notecards under windshield wipers of cars parked in downtown Camden,” Muldrow said. “People would write notes, pre-stamped and addressed to the mayor -- and there’s boxes upon boxes; splendid minutes almost -- of what a wonderful place Camden was. There were critiques, there were comments, mostly compliments. You’ve done it before, you should do it again. We’re just looking at a different technology in 2013.”

Muldrow suggested the city revisit such data every five years to measure retail growth.

Muldrow and Brookover ended their formal presentation at that point, indicating they plan to return Jan. 27 with its final report to the public.

The remainder of the work session included a question-and-answer period, primarily involving council members. Councilwoman Laurie Parks said she was “terribly impressed” and not just with the report but the path they took to create it.

“I think, maybe, some of the recommendations and sustaining data may be hard for some to swallow; it’s still good for us to hear,” Park said. “You being the experts -- you have done this countless times -- you’re the paid professionals. That’s why we engaged you. You’re looking at it from a different point of view. We live here, we see it a little differently. You’re looking at it a little bit more analytically, and we appreciate that … to be able to do it for the greater good of the community.”

Camden Mayor Tony Scully asked that with so many recommendations, how should the city move forward?

“From here, we’d like to move … to a tiering strategy. The immediate tier, we’re looking at a six-month horizon. I see on this council and this community an eagerness to jump ahead on these recommendations,” Muldrow said. “After that, we’re probably looking at a one- to two-year horizon, then a two- to five-year horizon to implement all the recommendations that are in here.”

Muldrow said capital projects, such as a hotel or meeting space could be five years down the road, while many of the other recommendations could be accomplished in the six month, and one- to two-year horizons.

Councilman Willard Polk complimented the men on what they had accomplished, saying that Camden had been “struggling” with such matters for a long time.

“I believe this community has been struggling with who we really are and what is the process to help us,” Polk said. “We’ve got to take this thing a bite at a time and we’re going to need facilitation in mentoring and help to bring us up and guide us along this path. It is a multi-year process. You can’t put bricks-and-mortar ahead of the basic foundation; that’s where we are right now.

Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford asked what role Arnett Muldrow would have once they made their final presentation in January. Muldrow said that while the contract may end at that point, they would not really “go away.” Brookover said that the hiring of a tourism director would be “extremely, extremely, extremely” important -- that it could “make or break” the city’s success. Muldrow added that within the tourism director’s job description should be the ability to work with all organizations in Camden, forging the necessary partnerships for success.

By “partners,” Muldrow said he meant instances where, for example, Hermitage Farms Shooting Sports and the Camden Archives and Museum team up to offer a “Guy Package.” He said a tourist could visit the Ross Beard gun collection at the Archives, enjoy one of Camden’s restaurants for a meal and have a clay shooting experience at Hermitage. Other partnerships, Muldrow said, could include food and home tours of Camden, and teaming up with area churches for large family reunions.

For sports tourism, Brookover said Kershaw County Recreation Director Joe Eason could work with Camden caterers for banquet dinners. Muldrow said the city could work with non-profits, and that the Fine Arts Center (FAC) of Kershaw County could be a key partner on several things.

“We very specific are recommending, as a trial package, the one with the arts and the antiques, we really think the Fine Arts Center would play a pivotal role,” Muldrow said. “They other key role for the Fine Arts Center is being a partner organization for regularly scheduled events. That’s happened in the past … we talked about tying that together solidly -- that those partnerships need to evolve naturally, but the arts center is a critical piece.

Earlier in the meeting, Brookover and Muldrow had discussed how the city might be able to assist Historic Camden become self-sufficient whether or not it ever achieves U.S. National Park Service (NPS) status. Polk said he was happy to hear that.

“Historic Camden is one of those entities that has just a natural ability to partner with so many other tourism venues in town,” Polk said. “The entire issue of partnership is extremely important. The other thing, I was happy to hear you comment on the recreational/sports tourism angle and the fact that the county should really be the prime agency in this. We need to take care of those facilities we currently have and enhance those as opposed to going out and putting in new facilities that we don’t have the wherewithal to take care of.”

Muldrow said the FAC and Historic Camden are key examples where the city would really need quality data to know they it is receiving a good return on its investments.

Muldrow also said that Historic Camden’s quest to transform the McCaa House into a representation of an 18th century tavern is the site’s way of trying to become “relevant on a regular basis.” He noted, however, than even “the best” military and national park sites have struggled in recent years.

Drakeford asked exactly what the city’s role should be since it doesn’t actually own Historic Camden. Muldrow said the city should assist with financing for a study on how to succeed, but with the goal that it wouldn’t come back to the city year after year for assistance.

Council members, Muldrow and Brookover also touched on the need to replace both Rhame Arena and Zemp Stadium which are on what are supposed to be Historic Camden grounds. Brookover said replacing those facilities are possible mid-term goals on his and Muldrow’s suggested timeline, suggesting brick-and-mortar solutions need to wait. He also said that the city should pursue items like a downtown hotel and downtown meeting space because they are slightly more “connected” ideas. Muldrow said the city might even want to look into spaces that could serve as a basketball court one night and a ballroom the next.

Scully asked Brookover to return to his suggestion that Kershaw County enact its own hospitality tax.

“You should continue to work with them,” Brookover said. “I, personally … think any legislative body that has not enacted a hospitality tax is insane. You are talking -- for someone who goes out and spends $100 a month on dining out at restaurants, you’re talking about $2. You could pass it tonight, secretly and not one person would ever know or realize what you have done. It is such a small tax, but has such a big impact and provides you with a funding stream.”

He said many of the projects discussed during the presentation would fall under HTAX funding use. Muldrow added that nearly all of Kershaw County’s neighbors have HTAX funding streams.

Among those attending the Dec. 10 meeting were members of a steering committee that guided Arnett Muldrow in its work. Committee member Thomas Bell said one of his main concerns is youth and young business owners. Bell said he hoped to see more promotion of the fact that Camden is Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Doby’s hometown. Bell also said that, perhaps, an annual exhibition baseball game could be used to highlight African-American cultural spots in the area such as Cedars Cemetery, White Pines Golf Club, and the former site of Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy.

Scully added to that discussion, confirming that a new Boys and Girls Club is forming at the former Continuous Learning Center across from Camden High School with membership on a sliding scale.

Drakeford said she appreciated Arnett Muldrow’s consideration of suggestions concerning African-American history and the need for HTAX applicants to show the potential impact of their use of such funds.

The session ended with another steering committee member, Dr. Ernestyne Adams, reminding Muldrow and Brookover that she had asked for specific plans regarding any African-American tourism packages and that she wanted to make sure that got addressed before things went much further.

Council will not meet again in December; its first meeting of 2014 will be its work session at 4 p.m. Jan. 14, followed by its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m.


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