LaGrange Council to end current tourism contract with chamber

Published 5:56 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The LaGrange City Council will provide the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce with a 60-day notice of its intention to break its tourism contract with the chamber.

During its work session Tuesday, the council continued an ongoing discussion on the city’s tourism budget, which has been managed by the chamber for 28 years. The budget also came up for discussion during Tuesday night’s council meeting, with councilman Mark Mitchell making a motion that the city give the chamber the required 60 days’ notice of its intent to break the contract between the two parties. The council gave City Manager Meg Kelsey permission to put out a request for proposals from qualifying 501(c)(6) organizations.   

As part of that process, it was noted the city must inform the chamber that it is ending its current contract, even though the chamber may still end up overseeing the tourism budget when the dust settles.

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“I think the consensus is if we do a [request for proposals], on June 30, the relationship is going to be reset on different terms, even if it’s still with the chamber,” said Mayor Jim Thornton.

“It’ll be a different relationship on different terms.”

The majority of the city’s tourism budget comes from the 8 percent hotel/motel tax. Five percent of that 8 percent is required to be used for tourism, with 3.5 percent of those funds funneling through a “destination marketing organization” or private sector, nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization. The Chamber has been that organization since the early 90s.

Over the last few years, as LaGrange has added amenities, the revenue from the hotel/motel tax has increased. As previously reported, that revenue increased from $564,253 in 2014 to $765,349 in 2018, a jump of nearly 30 percent.

In March, the council was approached by a group of local tourism partners, who have established the Troup County Tourism Development Authority, a qualifying 501(c)(6).

The new tourism authority asked for the city to consider allowing it to oversee the tourism budget, spurring additional discussion that continued Tuesday.

“Right now, all we know is the chamber, and I think we are going to sell ourselves short if we don’t at least explore other options,” said Councilman Jim Arrington.

Page Estes, president of the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, was reached by phone Tuesday night about the council’s decision.

“We are very proud of our track record with tourism,” Estes said. “Today at our chamber breakfast, we celebrated tourism in our community and the economic impact, the number of jobs created and the positive impact tourists have in our community. We certainly know with any program or service that you have to continue to make improvements to that and work with all the different partners, and we are committed to that. We are 100 percent proud of that record. We look forward to talking to the city further to see if that’s something we can continue, in terms of our partnership with them that we’ve had for a very long time.”

Kelsey is researching how other communities handle their tourism budgets and is expected to bring a recommendation back to the council before the end of the fiscal year.

“We definitely need closure to the discussion because it has drug on too long,” Thornton said.