VCVB pleads for more money; Ivan evacuees spent $1.2M here

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 1, 2004

[10/1/04]Members of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau board said Thursday they need more funding from local governments and others to do the job they were appointed to do.

Separately, a staff report from the VCVB indicated that evacuees from Hurricane Ivan who came to Vicksburg had a $1.2 million economic impact on the city.

Curt Follmer, general manager of Rainbow Hotel Casino and the newest member of the VCVB board, said he met the director of the Tunica County Visitors Bureau earlier this month and learned that they have a budget about four times greater than the local bureau.

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“Ten years ago Tunica County was the poorest place in the nation,” Follmer said. “To do this job with the minimal funding that this board has is an absurdity.”

The VCVB operates a budget of about $850,000 annually, funded by a 1 percent sales tax on room rentals and restaurant and bar tabs. In some years, the budget is augmented by state tourism money.

Other members of the board echoed Follmer’s comments as did Executive Director Emy Bullard Wilkinson.

“We’ve got to have a bigger plan instead of just going year-to-year on tax dollars,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson, in her post for six months, said she met earlier Thursday with representatives from Vicksburg’s four area casinos to discuss how the VCVB could work better with the gaming industry and about plans for the future. She said that the casino executives commented that the VCVB needs another $200,000 to $300,000 a year to accomplish those goals.

“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Follmer said.

Tunica County has a population of 9,917, about 20 percent of Warren County’s 49,148, and is home to nine casinos. Vicksburg has four casinos.

The VCVB spends most of its budget on advertising Vicksburg as a tourism destination, designing and printing brochures for year-round use, salaries and special promotions.

Wilkinson also reported that during a two-day period while Hurricane Ivan threatened the Mississippi coast, evacuees spent about $1.2 million at local hotels and restaurants. She said that number does not include money spent at nontourist-related stores.

She said more communication was needed among the VCVB and the Mississippi Welcome Center and local hotels when evacuees began descending on the city two weeks ago.

Wilkinson also said that they need to coordinate efforts with the Red Cross to help find hotels for people in future emergency situations.