Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shooting, Outdoor Show Light on 'Foot Traffic'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shooting, Outdoor Show Light on 'Foot Traffic'

Article excerpt

Byline: Amanda Williamson

The Prime Osborn Convention Center is hosting a shooting and outdoor convention - but chances are, you didn't know it was happening this weekend.

That's the most common complaint vendors at the event said they heard from those in attendance.

Most learned of the event by word of mouth, the vendors said. Others just happened to be in town.

Perhaps as a result, turnout was low Friday and Saturday. The event wraps up Sunday evening.

This is the Shooting and Outdoor Convention's first year, and its low attendance was just another bump in a somewhat rocky path to the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

In the summer of 2015, Jon McGowan, who organized the event under the corporation Gun Con Inc., was arrested on charges of failure to pay sales taxes. Two months later, the former gun store owner requested $350,000 in development tax money from Jacksonville to fund the event. While the Jacksonville Tourist Development Council denied his initial request, it ultimately approved a $150,000 grant in November.

The grant came from a highly sought-after pool of approximately $6 million last year, collected through a 6 percent bed tax levied on guests at Duval County hotels, motels and rentals.

Gun Con Inc., which lists McGowan as its president, will receive the money as a reimbursement after the tourist council approves its invoices. Applicants hoping to tap into the bed-tax money must meet a series of guidelines.

At the time of McGowan's September application, he was required to prove the event could fill a certain number of hotel rooms, be properly licensed or permitted, and be current in all taxes and other financial commitments owed to Duval County, according to requirements presented on the tourism council's website.

He did not meet at least one guideline in his application.

McGowan, who refused to comment for this story, owed the state and county thousands of dollars in sales taxes he collected from customers at his now defunct gun store in Atlantic Beach, according to the Florida Department of Revenue.

He blamed his arrest on a clerical error. Charges against him were dismissed after he settled his court-ordered tax obligation.

The convention was billed as an all-encompassing outdoor sports event intended to establish Jacksonville as a ecotourism destination in the Southeast. McGowan predicted the event would bring in 300 manufacturers and 40,000 people.

It did neither.

Instead, the event held about 30 vendors. A representative from Glock, the largest manufacturer present, said he was a bit disappointed with the turnout.

"The show is good, but it's just very slow," Jamey Brown, the company's east coast regional manager, said. "Not a lot of foot traffic."

Though gun sales weren't allowed at the Shooting and Outdoor Convention, many of the manufacturers, including Glock, were handing out swag bags and showing off new products. …

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