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Gainesville officials look to change name of tourism bureau
New CVB would be granted power to issue bonds, purchase property
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Calling it a mere formality, Gainesville officials are hoping that changing the name of the existing tourism bureau to the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau Authority will be a boon to its economic development portfolio.

“I think one of the good things about having the CVB designation is that it is known internationally,” Gainesville spokeswoman Catiel Felts told The Times earlier this week. “Everyone knows exactly what (Convention and Visitor Bureaus) do. Sometimes with the Gainesville Tourism and Trade, it’s harder to explain what we do.” 

But the name change is more than just a new moniker. Under the proposed legislation, which must be passed by the Georgia General Assembly, the CVB would be granted a number of powers that don’t currently exist within the city’s tourism and communications office. 

For example, the CVB would have the authority to purchase property, issue municipal revenue bonds and hire personnel to fulfill its mission. Additionally, the language of the bill does not stipulate the CVB be required to obtain the City Council’s approval before exercising these powers. 

The creation of the CVB follows the closing of the Georgia Mountains Center last year, which hosted conventions and trade shows, and was funded through the city’s hotel/motel tax revenue. That revenue needs a new home, officials said. 

The CVB would be primarily funded through the hotel/motel tax revenue, which has grown from about $454,000 in fiscal year 2010 to more than $587,000 in fiscal year 2013. That revenue is projected to grow again this current fiscal year. But the CVB would not be prohibited from receiving general fund money to bolster its budget, as well. 

The city also has been looking to partner in the development of a new hotel with meeting and convention space near downtown for years. After all, that’s one of the reasons the pedestrian bridge was built over Jesse Jewel Parkway. With the power to purchase property and issue bonds, the possibility exists that the CVB could be the arm of government to fund the new development. 

City officials roundly agreed many of the powers afforded the CVB were not likely to be exercised.

However, Melody Marlowe, chief financial officer, said she does not anticipate the CVB hiring new personnel or an executive director, which it would have the power to do. She also said purchasing property or issuing revenue bonds to acquire or build a convention and trade show facility would not happen. 

“I, too, don’t expect that to happen even though that may be written in the law,” said Councilman George Wangemann, adding he hopes the CVB will work closely with the council. “If that doesn’t happen, then we do have a problem.”

But these statements only beg the question: If the CVB is not likely to exercise certain authority, why then are the powers granted? 

City Manager Kip Padgett said the city wasn’t trying to recreate the wheel when it modeled the CVB’s bylaws on other tourism bureaus. 

“It would be kind of similar to what other (CVB) authorities throughout the state have,” he said. 

The City Council will appoint members to the seven-person board of directors governing the CVB — made up of the city manager, parks and recreation director, and representatives from the local restaurant, hotel and attractions industries — which provides a layer of oversight, Padgett said. 

Still, he acknowledged a day might come when the CVB does in fact employ its authority to the fullest extent — a fact that puts more taxpayer money at play. 

“Fifteen or 20 years down the road, there may be a need for that authority to exercise some of those powers,” Padgett said. “At this point, we just don’t foresee that need, but you never know.”