Clay Planning for Convention, Tourism Board

Article excerpt

A plan to market Clay County's creeks, lakes, forests and wildlife as tourist attractions could receive final approval of the County Commission next month.

By July, a visitors and convention bureau could be implemented by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce with financing provided by the county's Tourist Development Council.

A proposed agreement calls for an initial 15-month contract, beginning July 1, at an estimated cost of about $85,000 from tourist development revenues, which are derived from bed taxes paid by motel guests. Subsequent 12-month contracts would cost about $70,000 to $80,000.

A professional manager would be hired to develop marketing strategies, primarily focusing on the county's natural resources, to draw visitors and conventioneers to Clay County.

The program would be run out of the Chamber of Commerce building in Orange Park, with office space, computers and staff assistance provided by the chamber.

County commissioners endorsed the proposed deal during an informal hearing May 9, but called for additional language to be inserted in the proposed contract before taking a final position on the measure.

A final agreement is expected to be hammered out at the next Tourist Development Council meeting May 24, and presented to the County Commission on June 13.

Commissioner Pat McGovern, chairman of the appointed panel that controls the bed tax revenue, said he favored the idea of one agency being in charge of promoting the entire county's tourism attributes.

"The concept has been kicked around for about eight months," McGovern said. "There is no overall plan now, no coordination of efforts on events."

Instead, the council donates money to individual organizations that apply for grants annually to help promote and advertise different events throughout the year.

McGovern credited Van Royal, former president of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce, with initiating the proposed merger last year, calling it Royal's "brainchild."

"Clay County is years behind other counties in Northeast Florida that have developed a coordinated effort to promote tourism," McGovern said. …

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