St. Marys mulls event coordinator position

What does St. Marys need to bring in more tourists and attract more people to downtown? The CVB and tourism department are saying that an event coordinator is the answer.

“It’s a position that will pay for itself,” CVB chair Donna Asbell told St. Marys City Council Monday during a work session.

As the leader of the city’s convention and visitors bureau authority, Asbell mentioned the idea in the fall during her annual report when council asked what the CVB needed to grow. The idea was also raised in a recent downtown visioning plan.

Now it’s come before council, which postponed a decision until staff can look into all aspects of the proposal. Currently, two city positions — tourism director Angela Wigger and main street coordinator Becky Myers — manage downtown. City manager John Holman said he wanted to look at how these jobs fit with the requested position and the financial impact of creating a new job. An annual contract rate of $30,000 to $32,000 with a $10,000 increase after two years has been proposed.

“Do we need an event planner or do we, as a city, need somebody to assist our two people, so that they are able to focus more on event planning and marketing than on just bringing in a third person who is entering between the other two? Or can we make it cooperative? I don’t know,” Holman said.

Holman added that he wasn’t opposed to adding a new position but he wanted to understand the impact on the budget and give council information to decide if the benefits outweigh the costs.

The case for a coordinator

Council agreed with his assessment and council member Linda Williams asked Asbell and Wigger to talk about why the request was made.

“We did the research,” Asbell said. “We looked at other cities that have had this. Warrenton, perfect example, little, tiny town nothing going on six years ago. They put an event coordinator in. Not a planner. We don’t need more festivals. Festivals are great. We’ve got plenty of volunteers to do them. The entities that do them do them well. What we need is someone to coordinate the calendar.”

The city needs a calendar with various events each week that welcome center staff throughout the county can show to visitors. Events would also inspire downtown business owners to stay open late or on Sundays because they would make money and may draw new businesses, Asbell said.

“In Warrenton, one of the things that they do is they task their event coordinator with coming up with inexpensive things that could be put on downtown that could draw people, give them something to do, and don’t tax resources. And they came up with all kind of things. You know, water balloon day. They came up with corn hole. Independent businesses that came in had the opportunity to purchase a one-day license or a one-month license. They have food truck day. They had Food Truck Friday. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody but it provides something for somebody to do.”

Asbell also talked about the economic ripple effect of weddings and how Howard Gilman Memorial Park isn’t being as well utilized for weddings as it could be.

“We need one person to make that happen,” she said. “… When you look at the people who come in for a wedding, it’s not going to take long to pay that salary. … Whether it’s a contracted job or whether it’s a salary job, you have to look at what it’s going to take to get that money back and what else is it going to bring in.”

Comments from council

Council member Dave Reilly said he supported a position that could make St. Marys more attractive to outsiders but he — and council member Bob Nutter — wanted staff to gather more information and analyze the request. If approved, the city needed to set standards and have a way to evaluate the position.

“We need to take that action in a responsible manner that shows … we appreciate the recommendation and the thought that went into them, then take the action to seriously consider and do the right thing in respect to those recommendations,” Reilly said.

Council member Elaine Powierski mentioned that as part of the master planning process, residents are saying that they want more events, such as children’s activities and music, in St. Marys.

“The sense that I’m getting from residents is that they really have a need for some specific kind of events,” Powierski said. “Not large events. Not festivals. There’s plenty of those. They aren’t bringing any business. The citizens I’m reading about feel that by bringing in events we will start to revitalize downtown.”

Nutter said an event coordinator wouldn’t make the proposed events — restaurant week, first Friday event, art and wine walk — happen based on what’s been said about the proposal. Those events would be up to business owners that can do that now. The city also has volunteers on its CVB and a downtown development authority that are tasked with promoting the city.

“It sounds to me, based on what Donna was saying, is what you want is somebody to collect all of that information,” Nutter said. “So you really want just an admin person to fill in a calendar so that you can have something posted somewhere that says ‘On Tuesday, this is happening.’”

Council member Jim Gant said he felt the city had another need — economic development — that should be considered as part of examining the request. The city hasn’t had a dedicated economic development department for the last few years.

“There’s not really any focused attention to economic development,” Gant said. “Right now we can get by but I’m not sure that’s true in the future. When we’re looking at our future, we’re looking at a very bright future and we’re looking at lots of development that’s going to take place.”

The employees the city does have working some on economic development likely couldn’t handle the increased workload, Gant said.

“When you’re looking at the event planner position, I guess I would ask that you also consider economic development and how does that fit into the picture,” Gant said. “We only have so many resources … but we’ve got to use those resources very, very smartly until we’re booming — we’re not booming right now.”

Council member Sam Colville and Mayor John Morrissey were absent from the work session, which was rescheduled from June 6.

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