GREENFIELD — While more than $56,000 went to various groups in 2012 to promote tourism, members of the Hancock County Tourism Commission say more should be done this year to attract visitors.
A report released earlier this month shows $56,511 was spent on 12 organizations in 2012 for events designed to boost hotel visits and shopping at local stores and restaurants. That’s shy of the commission’s $80,000 goal, and members of the commission hope they will have more of a presence in 2013.
After all, the first year-and-a-half of the new commission saw plenty of head-butting and changes in membership.
“We spent a lot of time on just kind of everybody understanding and feeling out the next steps of things, how money was going to operate and how things were going to flow,” said David Dellacca, president of the commission. “From here moving forward, we have a real opportunity to start making some large and aggressive marketing campaigns.”
The first full year the commission was in place was foundational, Dellacca said. He hopes the group will come up with more marketing online and brainstorm ways to let even more groups know money is available to bring guests into the county.
Grants awarded in 2012 were mostly to advertise events in the county, such as the Riley Festival, Greenfield Christmas Festival, Lords Acre Festival and the Hancock County Arts Council concert series.
The commission paid for a few bricks-and-mortar items, such as a parking lot for the new McCordsville Sports Park and a portion of floor repairs to the museum in the historic Shirley Depot.
The commission agreed to pay up to $30,000 to the Sugar Creek Pennsy Trail committee for a local match for a grant that would connect Greenfield’s Pennsy Trail to Cumberland. That money, however, does not show up in financial reports yet because the grant has not yet been secured.
Nearly every group that approached the commission got funding, and Dellacca said he hopes this year even more will know about the commission and what it has to offer.
The Hancock County Tourism Commission formed in August 2011 as a government oversight board on how the county’s 4 percent innkeeper’s tax money is to be distributed.
For a decade, hundreds of thousands of dollars had been going directly to the nonprofit Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which oversees the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts. But county officials said per state statute, a government board should handle the money as opposed to a nonprofit agency.
There were growing pains the first year and a half for the new tourism commission. Members tried to decide how much money should continue to go to the visitors bureau and Ricks, while at the same time flow money to other organizations.
The commission decided most of the innkeepers tax funds would still go to the visitors bureau. Of about $250,000 in revenue for 2012, $80,000 was set aside for grants to various organizations, and $170,000 was earmarked for functions of the Hancock County Visitors Bureau. That includes operating the Ricks, advertising and promotions, support for the Hancock County Fairgrounds, and the salary and benefits of Dave Scott, who serves as director of both the bureau and commission.
But the tourism commission tried to spread the word to organizations that there was an $80,000 pie to divide among groups that could bring visitors to the county. The group held monthly meetings and listened to pitches from several groups.
Earl Smith, vice president of the commission, said it should be up to members to seek out groups. He wants members to be more proactive, as opposed to just waiting for groups to fill out grant applications and approach the board. After all, there were many local events that did not approach the tourism commission last year at all.
“If we see something, maybe we need to go to them and say, ‘Could you use some money from us for advertising?’” Smith said.
Smith also said perhaps the group can work with the Hancock Economic Development Council to help bring in small stores or businesses that would attract people from out of the county. An auction house or a winery could attract visitors from afar, he said.
For the last decade, the Hancock County Visitors Bureau had been spending much of the innkeepers tax paying for the renovations at the Ricks while also providing matching grants to organizations. Greg Carwein, a member of both the tourism commission and the visitors bureau, said the major difference now is that the commission gives out more funding to other groups.
While Carwein acknowledged some groups that came before the commission in 2012 had never come before the visitors bureau, others had been getting at least some funding from the visitors bureau for years.
“It’s not spreading it any more, it’s just in bigger quantities and sums,” Carwein said. “(The visitors bureau) went through everything based on a matching basis, a 50 percent match for advertising and marketing. (The tourism commission is) adding a little bit more support and stuff, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The first full year of the tourism commission went slowly, Carwein said, because everybody was trying to feel their way through the new process.
The commission also didn’t know if they would have to fund a $46,000 request to heat the sheep barn at the Hancock County Fairgrounds. Plans for the barn are still under way, and while the money hasn’t been formally approved yet, members acknowledge the improvement could bring events and shows to the county during cold months.
One main point of contention over the last year was whether the commission should pay for a new visitors center. While some say the building would provide a place for groups to hold meetings and events, others worry about the cost and staffing. Carwein and Scott say racks for brochures can simply be put in the lobby of the Ricks.
Ellen Fischer and Joni Romeril-Cox, two of the most vocal advocates for a new welcome center, were removed from the tourism commission.
Romeril-Cox said the first full year of the tourism commission was a learning experience for all members, but she would still like to see a physical location in the community to promote tourism.
“We wanted it to be not only a visitors center, but possibly a meeting site for groups that have upcoming events that they need a space to meet and prepare,” she said.
Brigette Jones, secretary of the tourism commission, said the first full year was a good start even though there were rough patches along the way.
“There’s a lot of stuff that can be done down the road that can promote visitors coming to Hancock County,” Jones said. “I’d like to see some kind of welcome center in whatever form it’s going to be, whether it’s a kiosk or whatever. I think that’s needed. There needs to be more done to support tourism in Hancock County… but it’s going to be a baby-step process.”