Sunday February 24, 2013

LENOX -- Despite misgivings voiced by Selectmen over town involvement in managing special events designed to pump up more tourist dollars, the board voted unanimously this week to hire a coordinator to help organize three major spring attractions.

Selectman David Roche, expressing support for the long-discussed proposal, emphasized that if all goes well, the coordinator would help boost attendance and fuel overnight stays as well as restaurant and retail spending.

That would increase the town’s annual revenue from what he called the tourist tax -- the surcharge on lodging and restaurant bills that currently nets around $1.6 million a year and could grow to $2 million.

The coordinator, to be hired through a competitive request for proposals according to state law, would work 200 hours from mid-March through mid-June for a fee of $8,000. The upcoming events include the fourth annual Memorial Weekend Marathon, the second annual Berkshire Cycling Classic on June 9, and a mid-June car show with a downtown block party to replace the Berkshire British Motorcar Festival, which will not be returning after two years in town.

"This would be someone who works between the town, the Chamber of Commerce and the merchants and brings everyone together," said Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler. "I think this is a good test of how this would work for future expansion of that position."

"This is a great way for us to generate business, generate taxes, bring people to the town and make things happen," Fowler emphasized. "We’re the ones who have to put the rudder on that ship."

During a half-hour discussion, Selectman Edward Lane stressed that he doesn’t want the town to coordinate special events. "Until everybody -- the whole town, the Chamber of Commerce and merchants especially -- is on board with it, I feel real uncomfortable," he said.

"I hope I eat my words," Lane added. "I hope a person can come on board and really sets the world on fire. I just worry whether that is going to happen."

Roche said his support for the proposal is based on the temporary nature of the position. "I agree this isn’t our business," he asserted. But he emphasized that the time-consuming planning and execution of special events can’t rest on the shoulders of the same few dedicated volunteers year after year.

"We need to have somebody come in to make sure these events are successful," he added, noting that tourist tax revenues represent "a pool of funds that’s become critical to the town."

"It’s not our job to be in marketing, but it is our job to figure out where we can look for sources of new revenue, and expand those sources to the best of our ability," Fowler said. "This is such a clear decision to be made. ŠThe events we’ve had in the past will leave if we don’t step up."

He urged merchants to support efforts by the town and the Chamber of Commerce, citing less than full backing in the past.

"What we have is tourism," Selectman Channing Gibson said. "It’s here, it’s going to stay here, it’s one of the few growth industries last year in Massachusetts and we need to capitalize on that. We’d be failing the town if we didn’t. If we don’t do it, the events are going to suffer, and we will not be developing events. It will be money well-spent."

Repeating his call for more participation by merchants, Selectman John McNinch said "my problem is still with the Chamber getting everyone involved. I have high hopes and expectations, but I have not seen any progress, unfortunately. I’m getting pretty frustrated."

In the end, setting reservations aside, the Select Board voted 5-0 to hire a special events coordinator guided by the town’s Events Committee to support the town’s efforts aimed at maximizing the appeal of the three upcoming spring events.

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