Tuesday September 11, 2012

LENOX -- To keep the momentum going and the coffers flowing from a busy, lucrative summer tourism season, local officials are pursuing a strategy to get the word out about a record number of cooler-weather attractions lined up for the next four weekends.

Some event organizers have sought and won loans from the Select Board to help reach out to the public not only in Berkshire County, but also the rest of Massachusetts and neighboring states.

But a coordinated plan to market the attractions to draw in a steady stream of visitors continues to be a work in progress, as reflected by the most recent meeting of the town’s Events Committee, which shed its former marketing function earlier this summer as directed by the Select Board.

In an effort to set new goals, committee member Robert Romeo, owner of Century 21 Franklin Street Associates, offered a draft proposal aimed at expanding existing events, some locally oriented and others directed toward visitors. He also called for the creation of new events "that complement and parallel the amenities of Lenox."

As he put it, "We have a lot of opportunity, we just need to focus on it and do it. The big question, and there’s a huge difference of opinion, is how you do that."

Romeo advocated hiring a qualified professional, such as an events coordinator, to fulfill the mission.

Until June, the town had a 15-month contract with the New York marketing firm Bodden Hamilton to bring events into the town and publicize them, but the company’s "Lenoxology" branding concept ran afoul of some residents and merchants.

According to Romeo, "whatever Bodden did has been discarded, for whatever reasons, political or otherwise."

He said the Events Comm ittee’s twice-monthly meetings are inadequate to fulfill the goal of "a meaningful strategy to make this happen."

Romeo suggested using a portion of the $1.6 million in funds returned annually by the state as the town’s 6.75 percent portion of the 11.75 percent lodging and meals tax. About $70,000 of voter-approved economic development funds also remains available.

"The funding has to be committed to reinvest in the community," he said. "I honestly don’t feel that giving out $2,500 here or $3,000 there is a huge, meaningful strategy."

"We have to put somebody in the driver’s seat that looks professional," Romeo declared at the Sept. 6 meeting.

"I think Bob’s hit the nail on the head," said Events Comm ittee Chairwoman Kimberly Flynn, supporting the idea of "having somebody on the ground, working for the town or the Chamber of Commerce or for both of them as a joint effort."

"You don’t have to convince me," said Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, who was attending the meeting and noted that he had proposed the same idea five years ago. He said his initial budget planning for next year includes "substantial dollars for marketing."

Among the major upcoming events is the 36th annual Josh Billings RunAground tri athlon this Sunday, directed by Patty Spector since 2002. In an effort to broaden the event, Spector sought and was granted $2,500 by the Select Board to promote the event within a radius of 120 miles from Lenox.

The for-profit Berkshire Arts Festival, a first for the town set for Sept. 28-30 at Shakespeare & Company, gained a $3,000 loan to help cover start-up costs.

The Events Committee will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 4 p.m.