LENOX -- After flailing around unsuccessfully for several years with various schemes to promote tourism and market the town as a destination, Town Hall may now shift toward consideration of a director of economic development at $50,000 a year with a wide-ranging portfolio.
The idea was floated by Robert Romeo, longtime downtown Realtor, business and commercial property owner at a recent Events Committee meeting, and may be discussed by the Select Board at its upcoming annual "public retreat" on a date still to be set.
Presenting his draft proposal, Romeo cited "frustration with this whole process and how meaningful it was that we were doing whatever it was we were doing" in connection with funding and promoting tourist-oriented events.
Advocating a focus on overall economic development, defined broadly, Romeo declared it's time for the town to expand its commercial base, citing successful efforts to attract more weddings to the area to help fuel the local economy. He also pointed to available space for industry in Lenox Dale.
He called for an emphasis on professionalism -- "we need somebody the Board of Selectmen or this committee can hold responsible .if we're not going to do this seriously, then we're just going to be throwing it against the wall. You're going to frustrate and wear out the community."
"As a town we need to raise our revenue, or else all of us are going to have to pay more and more instead of raising the [tax] base," Events Committee member Lauryn Franzoni said. "To me, that's mission critical."
According to Romeo, who checked with Town Manager Gregory Federspiel before his departure for a new post on the North Shore, about $50,000 remains in unspent economic development funds approved by Town Meeting voters that could be used for a director or office of economic development.
He recommended "something that makes us look professional, so that we know what the hell we're doing, and we've got a goal, a target, a strategy rather than just hip-shooting."
Romeo predicted that for $50,000, an economic development director could be found "with the expertise necessary to coordinate an overview and get all of this going. We need somebody with the capacity to put a team together and know the resources from which to draw."
Selectman Channing Gibson, liaison to the committee, said the board "is taking a hard look" at economic development. But he cited previous economic development teams whose recommendations were shelved.
"No one ever took any affirmative steps to act on any of the recommendations," he said. "It's frustrating that we're in this place, we're going to need lots of help, but we're trying to figure out how to get past this to pursue a strategy that makes sense."
"We need to come up with an answer, we are trying," he added. "The message is seeping in that either you do something or maybe the town just wants to be where it is and that's it."
Committee member Carl Pratt, general manager of Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, warned that without a point person, "it'll go in a drawer again. For me, if the town's not committed to it, it's not going to work. All of this stuff is going to continue to be mediocrity."
He advocated hiring an economic development leader to engage the business community and Town Hall on how to collaborate. "The bottom line is either you do it, or you don't, and if you're not going to do it, then accept lower expectations," said Pratt.