LENOX -- With an events coordinator just hired by the Select Board for a 13-week stint to manage and promote three spring-season special attractions, debate is swirling on whether the town needs a year-round professional to help expand shoulder-season tourism.
At the most recent board meeting, Selectman John McNinch, a longtime critic of the Chamber of Commerce, stunned his colleagues with an about-face by proposing a Town Hall partnership with the chamber to create a long-term position for "a young person, fresh blood. I think that's our best option because our success rate with every other thing we've tried has not been very high.
McNinch prefaced his proposition by predicting that "you guys are going to hate me, laugh at me for saying this." Amid laughter, Selectman David Roche asked, "Is there a doctor out there?"
"Instead of funding an events coordinator, we could do some funding for the chamber and they could hire a person who would do just that," McNinch elaborated. But, he emphasized, the town would be involved through the partnership.
"Everyone knows how I feel about the chamber," he added. "But there needs to be a change because we've been doing everything the same way, all the time, repeatedly, and we're getting the same results."
In response, Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler cautioned that some on the chamber might fear a town takeover of the organization.
He also cited "great misconceptions" about marketing and event planning -- "that's why I get so much from people on the street about this, because their conception is wrong. They see it as just an event planner."
At the annual town meeting on May 2, voters may see a $97,500 budget line item for economic development, including $52,500 for a year-round consultant to handle business recruitment and event development. The Finance Committee has already recommended cutting the total line item to $55,000, the same level as the past two years. The Select Board will review and approve the entire town meeting warrant at its April 3 meeting.
"This event planner has stirred more conversations involving me and other people in town than a lot of other things happening," Fowler observed, elaborating on a point he has stated previously. "This one bubbles up constantly. Why isn't the chamber an event planner? We've had three existing events with some degree of success, so what are we going for?"
Fowler said he anticipated resistance from taxpayers if they are asked to support funding for an event planner. "We need to consider stepping back and reassessing exactly what we're looking for," he contended.
The discussion followed unanimous Select Board approval of a recommendation from the Events Committee and Town Manager Gregory Federspiel to hire Tara Consolati, who operates a marketing and public-relations firm based at her home in Otis, for the immediate three-month assignment.
The primary mission is to coordinate and publicize three spring attractions designed to boost off-season tourism -- the third annual Memorial Day Weekend Marathon, the second annual Berkshire Cycling Classic on June 9 and a reconfigured classic car show and downtown block party on June 14. Part of the assignment is to encourage local businesses to sponsor and support the events.
Consolati, with an employee, Marlene MacFarlane, will work 16 hours a week at $40 an hour for 13 weeks, totaling $8,320 for 208 hours starting April 1 through June.
"In my opinion, this applicant was far and above the others, a lot more experience, somebody with a proven record and I was very impressed," said Roche. Consolati has helped organize the annual Lenox Wedding Planners Tour. Hers was among four responses received after the town advertised requests for proposals.
Advocating for the position, Roche noted that increasing the lodging and meals tax revenue -- about $1.6 million last year -- would help hold down the rate of property-tax increases. "The question is, without this position, is that sustainable?" he asked. Consolati will report to Federspiel and work with the town's Events Committee.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto