Monday December 24, 2012

LENOX -- An effort by town leaders to hire an events coordinator remains a top priority following an extended discussion that reflected interest but also discord over the scope of the position and whether it should be supervised and funded by Town Hall or bythe business community.

Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler told The Eagle he’ll push for a vote next month because he believes strongly that Lenox needs an experienced professional to coordinate and publicize existing attractions while scoping out new ones to attract more visitors and fill town coffers with "tourist tax" revenues to keep property taxes in check.

If approved by the Selectmen, the salary would come from a small slice of the town’s annual $1.9 million lodging and meals tax-revenue pie, said Fowler. In addition, there’s still close to $50,000 in funding for event development and marketing previously authorized by Town Meeting voters.

Near the end of a contentious joint meeting between the Selectmen and the town’s Events Committee this past week, Town Manager Gregory Federspiel declared that "if you want to go down this path, I think you need to go all-in. I don’t think you can put your toe in the water, you need to make a three-year commitment to a full-time position, a contract that at the end of the three years you re-evaluate."

"You’re not going to see results otherwise," he asserted. "I know it’s a big step, but if you’re really going to do it right, I think you need to do that, and I don’t see it being successful and getting the right person to take the job when it’s not a multi-year commitment, full-time."

Federspiel’s stand won strong support from two of the five Selectmen, the Events Committee members and Chamber of Commerce President Katherine Lockridge, who attended the session.

"If this town is really serious about committing to bring in events that are going to impact the economic viability of this town," said Events Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Flynn, "I think we really have to be all-in, make the commitment, and bring somebody in here, to a full-time position, a three-year contract, give them the reins and let’s start pulling things together, growing what we’ve already got and bringing in some new things for the shoulder seasons where we want to get this town on the map as a destination."

But continued resistance to the notion that the Select Board should be marketing the town was voiced by board member John McNinch -- "something I think we all agree on but we’re forced to do it right now because there is no other option." He also expressed opposition to turning the mission over to the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.

Selectman Channing Gibson countered that the desire and need to create additional, more ambitious events requires an organized effort by a coordinator.

"We need somebody whose job is to create events, support events and bring events to Lenox, and if we don’t do that, they won’t happen with the life and energy that we need," declared Events Committee member Carl Pratt, general manager of the Cranwell Resort. "We can continue to play along with "onesies" and "twosies" for the next 3 to 5 years and everybody’s going to go, ‘Well, that’s a nice little event.’ "

Pratt stressed "the true and absolute, hard cold reality" that, lacking a coordinator, the events would remain small-scale. "This position is crucial to the success of this committee, which is not going to be able to sustain itself if it doesn’t have additional support from the town, both financially as well as an individual to help this group move things forward," he insisted. "If we don’t get this position, it’s going to disrupt the potential for events going forward in Lenox."

But the lack of unanimity on the five-member Select Board surfaced when member Edward Lane expressed strong opposition; instead, he suggested, the Chamber of Commerce or some other private entity should employ an events manager.

McNinch agreed, expressing preference for a merchants’ group to oversee the efforts: "We need to get the businesses more involved in the town, instead of just for themselves. That’s the biggest issue Lenox has."

But Flynn countered that the Chamber is "not in a position right now to do that and we’re going to lose a lot of valuable time and possible events if we don’t make a move."

Federspiel, seeking to bridge the gap, identified the divisive issue as "where to house the person -- is it a town employee or a private employee. I really think that’s the rub."

Taking the position that "we don’t need to look at adding another staff person to the town," Selectman David Roche suggested contracting for the short-term services of a coordinator for a specific event or two. "If it works, we move forward," he said.

But Pratt argued that finding "a quality individual" would require a greater commitment from the town -- at least 20 hours a week. The position "really needs to be something that comes to this committee, and-or to the town," he contended. "Otherwise, it’s not going to get the support and it’s going to fail."

The Select Board is likely to resume its discussion and possibly take a vote at its next regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.