The Gainesville City Council voted Tuesday to withdraw funding from the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau and use the money to market city tourism attractions on its own.
The decision came in a unanimous vote after city officials said they sensed the bureau was not as focused on bringing tourism to Gainesville as it is other areas of the county.
Beginning in January, the city will take control of the funding supplied mainly by revenues from the city’s hotel/motel tax to directly market tourism to city facilities like the Georgia Mountains Center and private venues adjacent to the city like the Lake Lanier Olympic venue.
Until then, the city will continue to fund the bureau and will finish out other project commitments with them, City Manager Kip Padgett said.
City officials were careful to say Tuesday morning that they were not severing the city’s relationship with the bureau, but instead said the city will become "partners" with the organization. Padgett said the bureau will keep its office on city property, and the city will continue to provide technology support to them.
"We do want to continue to have a positive relationship with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and want to go forward and make it the best situation we can for everybody concerned," Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner said.
But Tuesday’s decision raises funding concerns for CVB board members and employees. Because of the number of hotel rooms in Gainesville, the city has historically been the bureau’s biggest funding partner, said Betsy Adams, chairwoman of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors. The visitors bureau would have received $132,800 from the city between July 2009 and June 2010.
"It is disappointing," Adams said of Tuesday’s decision. "The board is quite concerned about how we’ll go forward and what changes will have to be made because of the decrease in funding."
The resolution to bring tourism marketing in-house was not on the agenda for the City Council’s Tuesday meeting; City Manager Kip Padgett put the resolution before the council at the end of the meeting.
Without any discussion Tuesday, all council members voted in favor of the resolution.
"This is something we’ve discussed informally among ourselves and also during executive session for personnel to fine-tune it and figure out how we want to set this up," Padgett said.
Bruner said the idea to bring tourism marketing in-house has been floating between council members for a few months. Other cities have made similar changes, and Gainesville’s council members, sensing "a decreasing emphasis on Gainesville from the CVB," began thinking seriously about the idea, she said.
"We feel like we’re not getting the emphasis on city that we need to be getting from CVB," Bruner said.
But Adams did not feel the same.
"I believe the CVB has done a great job with representing all of the funding partners to the best of their abilities," Adams said. "...I feel like if the executive board of the CVB could meet with the City Council, we could understand it better."
Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier CVB, said she knew the council’s decision was coming for about two weeks. The bureau requested a meeting with the City Council to discuss the issue, but was not granted one, Adams and Dickson both said.
"We’ve asked to sit down with the City Council and have a discussion, but we’ve not been afforded that opportunity yet," Dickson said.
Dickson, who was present at the council’s meeting Tuesday, called the decision "disorienting," considering the work she said the bureau has done for the city over the years.
"So we’re going to be going through this transition period and seeing if we can resolve whatever concerns they may have and try to work it out because working regionally is best for all parties, to pool our funds and get the most for the money," Dickson said. "And so we certainly respect the city’s authority to do what they need to do and what they feel is best but we are the tourism professionals in this community, so we feel like we can do the best job representing everyone."