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VCVB turned down sponsorship of fishing tournament

[03/22/01] A Vicksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau official said his organization turned down a chance to sponsor the Memorial Day fishing tournament that instead drew $40,000 from city officials.

Al Elmore, director of tourism at the VCVB, said the bureau had been asked to help sponsor the Sportsman’s Association of Black Bass Anglers tournament, but opted against the event for financial reasons.

He said he attended a meeting in December at City Hall at which he and representatives of Main Street and the four casinos in Vicksburg were told by SABBA officers an answer to a request for sponsorships was needed that day so SABBA could make a bid for the tournament at a meeting the next day.

“We had to decline because of the short notice and because we knew we were looking at a shortfall in our own budget,” Elmore said. The VCVB receives about $1 million per year to spend in tourism development.

In a 2-1 vote Monday with no discussion and no comment, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen allocated more than three times the city’s whole annual advertising budget for a tournament sponsored by the SABBA, a Decatur, Ga., based organization. Based on the city’s 18.5 percent share of the 7 percent sales tax collected by the state, Vicksburg stands to recoup $15,540 in revenue if the event meets organizers’ projections.

Shambani Watts of Jackson, SABBA vice president and tournament coordinator, told board members Monday his group expects about 400 participants in the Memorial Day event with an economic impact of about $1.2 million.

While the organization identifies itself as one for black people, membership is open to whites, Watts said. But to be eligible to fish in the Mississippi River here as planned and compete for prizes, a person would have had to been a member for a year and fish in an April 8 qualifying tournament.

Ward Clements of Rolling Fork, a former member of SABBA who has promoted similar fishing tournaments since 1978, said the real impact of the event will be in the pockets of local vendors.

“This is the best money that the city has ever spent,” Clements said.

He said although the city does not spend as much on other events such as the Miss Mississippi Pageant, the revenue generated by the weeklong fishing tournament including hotels, food, gas and fishing supplies will be great enough to justify the city sponsorship.

George Stevens of Steven’s Service Center is one local business owner who disagrees.

“This is the most disgraceful thing the city could do,” he said. “They’ve got people with high gas and electric bills, and them spending $40,000 for this is outrageous.”

Stevens said he could see spending money for an event for fathers and children to fish together but not for a group of adults.

“And if they think this will bring tourists to Vicksburg, they’ve got rocks in their heads,” Stevens said.

In the year 2000, spending on all advertising by the city totaled $12,386. The city spent $2,500 on advertising for the Miss Mississippi Pageant which sells 1,700 tickets.

Clements was joined by Mike Caruthers of Caruthers, Inc., which sells fishing boats and equipment. “It’s about time,” the city started supporting fishing as tourism, he said.

Caruthers is the local dealer for Ranger boats, and first prize in the tournament is two, fully rigged Ranger boats with 115-hp Yamaha engines.

Teresa Lynn with Lynn’s Welding Shop on LeTourneau Road, which builds custom boats, said she agrees with the city promoting the event, but feels it has gone overboard.

“I do feel that $40,000 is way too much to spend on one event,” she said.

The event was based in Greenville last year where $6,000 in public money was provided.

Although the money has been allocated by the city board, no money has been spent yet. The board will have to vote to approve the claims docket before a check will be issued to SABBA.

The $40,000 will come out of the Vicksburg Convention Center’s $873,370 budget. Revenue for the center includes a 2 percent hotel tax, rental of the facility and a city subsidy of $408,840.

Norman Ford, interim executive director of the convention center, said SABBA will not be using the center for any of its functions because of the way events are already booked there.

“I have an event before the Memorial Day weekend that requires bleachers and I have one afterwards that requires bleachers,” Ford said, adding it would be inefficient to put the bleachers up, tear them down and then put them back up.

“I told them they could use the parking lot for a drive-through weighing if they wanted to,” he said.

How the money will be used is still an open question. Other than “advertising,” no specific information has been provided.

Of the four local members of the fishing group, two were donors to 1997 political campaigns of Mayor Robert Walker and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young who are seeking re-election this year.

South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, who cast the dissenting vote, said he didn’t oppose the sponsorship, but felt the allocation was “out of whack.”