Friday, July 24, 2009

Decatur visitors bureau

Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted the following business during its monthly meeting Thursday:
Reported the bureau received $62,128 in revenue in June and had $32,475 in expenses for a net income of $29,653; for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2008, income was $506,750 while expenses were $511,556, a net loss of $5,068.
Reported the occupancy rate for reporting hotels in April was 55 percent, down 3 percent compared to the same month last year.
Reported the $2-per-night room occupancy tax generated $44,225 in April, which was down $2,521 from the same month last year. For the year, the room tax, which supports local tourism projects, has raised $329,894, down from $386,076 for the same nine-month period last year.
Reported the city collected $82,780 in lodging taxes in April, down 7 percent from the same month last year. The bureau receives 75 percent of that amount.
Reported that from July 1 to July 21, it had 84 computer users visit its Web site section where they can download free MP3 audio guides of the Civil War Walking Trail and Historic Decatur Tour. The same guides are available on 1 gigabyte memory cards for $20 at the bureau office or at Parham’s Civil War Relics on Bank Street Northeast.
Reported the Wet-Dog Triathlon, organized by the Decatur Jaycees, had a record 508 participants this year, up from 325 last year.
Announced it will apply for a 22-foot setback variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustments to erect a new sign in front of its office on Sixth Avenue Southeast. The new sign will match the new wayfinding signs the city installed earlier this year.
Paul Huggins

After down year, tourism board ups marketing budget

By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily
Despite a year with less than expected revenues, the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau increased its spending budget for the next fiscal year.
The bureau board of directors approved $723,000, which covers everything from staff payroll, trips to trade shows, advertising, support for local festivals and fees to host special events.
Sales and marketing account for $410,000 of the budget, which includes $70,775 on advertising and brochures and $210,000 to cover bid, host and support fees for 23 special events. The latter category had an increase of almost $69,000 compared to last year’s amount for 19 special events.
The 2008-09 revised mid-year budget was $717,874, and the bureau projects revenues to come in at $670,320 this year for a net loss of $47,554.
Bureau officials cite fewer corporate travelers as the main cause of decreased revenue.
Board treasurer Wade Weaver said the bureau has enough reserves to compensate for this year’s deficit.
It had budget surpluses in previous years, including $15,647 last year.
Bureau President Tami Reist said one reason for the budget increase for next year is because Decatur will be host four major sporting events in October and November. Combined they will require $58,000 in host fees.
Reist also said she is optimistic corporate travel will rebound next year based on what she has learned from some local industries.
Corporate visitors traditionally are the backbone of the local hotel market.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should Decatur look to make bigger splash? Interactive fountain bi draw for Florence

By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The fountain at the River Heritage Park in Florence. “The fountain is everything we wanted it to be,” said Florence City Planner Melissa Bailey. “Hundreds come to the fountain each day. When it first opened, it wasn’t unusual to have 1,000 people at the park.”
Many visitors to Florence’s River Heritage Park leave envious, including Decatur residents.
Compared by fountain consultants to the Bellagio hotel’s fountain in Las Vegas, the park’s interactive fountain combines music, lights and water to create a recreational and entertainment Mecca.
Could Decatur provide residents with a similar attraction? Not with the current budget, poor-performing sales-tax revenues and higher-prioritized projects.

“Building a press box at Jack Allen, in our opinion, is the No. 1 priority,” said Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau President Tami Reist. “It would make Decatur eligible for more tournaments, and tournaments bring in money.”
Monday, the City Council approved transferring $150,000 designated for a parking lot at Ingalls Harbor to the soccer complex press box project, which translates to hosting opportunities.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics men’s soccer championship and the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s soccer tournaments both require press boxes at host sites.
With the press box approved, Reist said she is 99 percent certain the NAIA will tap Jack Allen to host the men’s 2010 and 2011 championships, which would generate a $500,000 economic impact each year.
“If we build a larger tax base and bring more money into the city, then maybe we could create funding for a fountain,” Reist said.
While local officials contemplate what additions would financially benefit Decatur, Florence officials are reveling in their attraction’s success, described as the “crown jewel of the park.”
“The fountain is everything we wanted it to be,” said Florence City Planner Melissa Bailey. “Hundreds come to the fountain each day. When it first opened, it wasn’t unusual to have 1,000 people at the park.”
Fred Boughner, Florence Parks and Recreation parks superintendent, concurred.
“It is quite overwhelming,” he said. “We had no idea it would be this popular.”
Featuring eight pumps capable of handling about 20,000 gallons a minute at full capacity and shooting it five stories high, the interactive fountain is not a splash pad, Bailey stressed.
For all ages
Unlike splash pads, which appeal primarily to children, the interactive fountain entertains all ages.
During the past three years, Decatur opened splash pads at Delano Park and the Carrie Matthews Recreation Center. Parks and Recreation also included a $200,000 splash pad in the master plan for Jack Allen. But none of the splash pads in existence or envisioned rivals the scale of Florence’s attraction.
At approximately 5,000 square feet, River Heritage Park’s fountain measures four times larger than the 1,200-square-foot splash pad at Delano Park.
“The splash pads are a hit and always crowded,” said Decatur Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap. “We started staffing an employee at Delano while the splash pad is open because it is so congested.”
The popularity of the existing splash pads generated discussion of adding more water features to the city’s neighborhood parks.
“If there were more splash pads, in the summer, they would be packed,” Dunlap said. “Could we use more water attractions? Yes.”
Parks and Recreation will push for the next splash pad at Jack Allen, estimated to cost $200,000, Dunlap said. But funding an interactive fountain is not a possibility for Decatur at present.
Florence’s interactive fountain cost approximately one-third of the $6.5 million used to build River Heritage Park, Bailey said. Funds stemmed from a $1.2 million federal grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation, capital improvement funding and a bond issue.
The park, part of former city planner Barry Broach’s vision in the late 1980s, took 20 months to construct.
Along with the fountain, the park overlooking Wilson Dam includes a playground, festival lawn, pavilion, meadow amphitheater and walk of fame.
Combined, the park’s features create a tourist attraction.
“Cities our size are typically a one- or two-day trip site, but this park combined with other draws like the Helen Keller home, W.C. Handy festival and Robert Trent Jones golf trail, we are getting to be a three- to four-day vacation site,” Bailey said.
For now — as Decatur, like many other city governments, struggles economically — thoughts of designating funds for newer and bigger water features are not financially feasible. But Dunlap said the city may consider an interactive fountain in the future.
According to Reist, “Would it be a draw for tourists here? Maybe not, but it would be an added benefit for tourists and more of an enhancer for the community.”
Florence’s fountain
Cost approximately $2 million to build over 20 months.
Eight pumps can handle 20,000 gallons a minute.
Measures 80 feet in diameter, or approximately 5,000 square feet.
Open daily from Memorial Day to the middle of August. Open weekends until the middle of September.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Night show begins at 9 p.m. and lasts 45 minutes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Carnegie connection

Chatter Box
by Wendy Lane Beck, Columnist, The Decatur Daily

“The Art and Life of Adelaide Mahan” is a retrospective glimpse into the creative life of an Alabama woman born in 1872. Educated at the prestigious and innovative Cooper Union School in New York, Mahan, through her art, offers a view into history as well as her talented life. Also included in the exhibit are personal artifacts, sketches and photographs. Come explore this wonderful exhibit through Aug. 8 at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center on Church Street Northeast.
It’s not too early to make your plans now to attend the Butterfly Garden Ball on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. This culmination of the Arts Aflutter outdoor trail exhibit will feature live music by Group 6, hors d’oeuvres, beverages and a live auction of select butterflies from the exhibit, plus new 1-foot garden-sized reproductions and complementary designs of most butterflies from the exhibit. Cost for this festive arts ball is $75 per person and summer cocktail attire is appropriate. Reservations are required, so call the Carnegie at 341-0562 today.

Reliving the Civil War

Chatter Box
by Wendy Land Beck, Columnistm, The Decatur Daily

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently announced the release of a new podcast featuring the Civil War Walking Tour, a 13-block stroll through the Old Decatur Historic District. The audio tour includes the story of a four-day struggle between Confederate and Union soldiers and the history of many of Decatur’s Civil War sites.
The podcast is available in audio format in the “Videos and Podcasts” section of, and is free to download to a personal computer and a portable media player. An accompanying brochure is available.
Also available online is “Opening the Vault of History,” a complete overview of the beginning of Decatur and Morgan County and its role in shaping North Alabama into what it is today.
Decatur played a small, yet significant part in the War Between the States, and while I don’t know much about podcasts, I do love the history of our great city and can’t wait to try this one out — if I can get my boys to help me! Come log on and learn with me about the heritage of our home.
The Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau is a nonprofit organization promoting tourism and economic growth in Morgan County. For information on special events and attractions throughout Morgan County, contact the bureau at 800-524-6181 or 350-2028, or visit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quick retort from mouth of a child

by Steve Stewart, Weekend Editor, The Decatur Daily

Quick retort from mouth of a child
Before the Spirit of America’s Children’s Bike Parade on the Fourth of July, a girl about 8 or 9 years old was registering her decorated bike.
Volunteer Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, asked coyly if the youngster was 16. She mentioned that she “looked 16.”
The little girl just smiled and responded without skipping a beat, “You look 102.”
That left Tami speechless.
Esco Olinger, the festival’s volunteer bike parade director, didn’t say a word but grinned and gave the little girl two thumbs up.
Julianne Lowman, marketing director for Decatur Parks and Recreation and Point Mallard Park, passed along this story.