Visitors’ bureau exec. director would like to see South Jax back in the fold

By Gary Scott on December 26, 2015 at 9:45am

There’s a new push for South Jacksonville to reconsider how it spends revenue generated from its hotel-motel tax.

During the final Jacksonville City Council meeting of 2015, which happened earlier this month, aldermen approved a request from the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau to increase the hotel-motel tax for city establishments to eight percent.

Following the vote, Alderman Steve Warmowski expressed a desire for South Jacksonville to contribute its hotel-motel tax, estimated to be at five-and-a-half percent, to the Jacksonville CVB.

The village had been part of the bureau, but that changed about five years ago. South Jacksonville has since kept the revenue and uses it for its annual Concert in the Cornfield.

South Jacksonville Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Waltrip was a board member when the decision was made to split.

“We didn’t see any tangible results from the convention bureau. That was the position the board took at that time. I don’t know what position the board’s going to take at this time,” says Waltrip. “We’re not talking about raising the taxes, so, I mean, that would have to be something that’s brought up among the board members.”

Jacksonville Convention and Visitors’ Bureau Executive Director Brittany Henry hopes that attitude changes at some point in the future.

“Our marketing and promotion efforts for tourism brings and keeps jobs in the area, and that tax revenue, generated by Illinois tourism, funds our education, health care, public safety and social services around the state,” she says.

“So, if we’re all working together to promote the same cause, we’re going to really be much stronger as a whole and a community as to what we’re putting out for our marketing.”

Henry says currently, South Jacksonville’s hotels are mentioned in the CVB marketing materials- and they have to be, as part of the terms of the grant funding the bureau receives- but not nearly as much as Jacksonville hotels.

Henry says South Jacksonville was bringing in about $80,000 to $90,000 in hotel-motel taxes at the time they broke off from the CVB. Jacksonville hotels were bringing in about $120,000.

“When we lost that money, we lost almost half of our budget,” she says.

Henry says the numbers have increased significantly since, with $890,000 in local tax receipts in the most recent fiscal year. She says about 5,000 more hotel rooms were sold from the previous fiscal period, and attributes the success to the CVB’s marketing efforts.

“We’re actively selling the city hotels, and that’s one thing for our hotels: a lot of our smaller hotels in our community, they can’t afford a sales and marketing person because of the size of our community,” says Henry.

“And that’s what we’re here for, to help market and sell the properties when we do have the special events, or if the colleges have an event, or if there’s a health care event. It doesn’t even have to be a leisure event, it’s that business travel, the small-meeting markets that are coming in, and the pass-through travel. We’re the ones that are helping with those efforts with these hotels, to help fill them on a regular basis,” she adds.

Alderman Warmowski argued this month that the Concert in the Cornfield doesn’t contribute to tourism in the area, or get grants from the state. And, while Warmowski said he hopes South Jacksonville leaders change their mind, Waltrip says he thinks the event has done its job.

“It really does help,” he says. “But, we’re looking at avenues to use this money to further develop, tangibly, the village. We’re getting some growth, and it’s good. People want to be a part of sharing it.”

South Jacksonville currently has three major hotels, and a fourth one could be on the way.

The village currently doesn’t have a director of development. Waltrip says that was part of the job of code enforcement officer Dick Samples, who has since resigned.

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard said during the December 14th City Council meeting that he agreed with Warmowski on this issue.