Cultural leader Koury pleads for VCVB solution|[11/18/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2005

A former merchant who has been a leader in cultural efforts since her retirement stepped to the microphone at City Hall Thursday and pleaded with elected officials to end weeks of bickering over tourism development.

&#8220Politics got involved and now we’re ready to lose the VCVB,” said Frances Koury, a former partner in Koury’s Children’s Shop with her husband, Ellis. &#8220It weighed on me heavily.”

Koury, who has been a principal organizer in Mississippi Symphony appearances here, in the weeks-long series of concerts in the International Chamber Music Festival and Fourth of July celebrations with fireworks and music that have entertained thousands, has also been a supporter of Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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He was not spared in her plea for &#8220leadership.”

&#8220Too many organizations try to protect their own turf” instead of doing what’s best for Vicksburg, Koury said. &#8220Let’s all come together.”

Leyens approached the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor Center board in public at its Oct. 24 meeting about hiring Compass Facilities Management, the company the city pays to operate the Vicksburg Convention Center and Auditorium, to also run the VCVB.

At the time, the 11 members of the tourism development board created by the Legislature 35 years ago and funded with a 1 percent &#8220tourism tax,” were searching for a new executive director, a process under way since April.

Parliamentary chaos followed, with the resignation of Curt Follmer, board chairman, citing pressure from Leyens, and some of the 10 remaining members walking out of the last meeting without adjourning.

Members of the board – five city appointees, five county appointees and one combined appointee – have said little about their intentions. One member said Thursday it’s not known when or if the group will meet again. Staff work is continuing, however, with the operation of two visitor centers.

Since the proposal was made, Compass has said it is not interested in the deal because of the controversy. Thursday, Leyens repeated his statement from earlier in the week that he’s through making suggestions, too.

Koury said she was not a supporter of the Compass proposal and decided to speak in public because she has been distressed by comments made over the past few weeks.

She also said she would like Follmer, senior vice president and general manager of Rainbow Casino, to return to his position on the VCVB board because of his knowledge of tourism and business.

Koury said the successful events she has been involved with came about from an &#8220outgrowth of friendship.”

&#8220I think its communication. I think its respect,” Koury said. That is what she said is lacking in the community’s efforts to promote tourism.

&#8220Communication is the key,” she said.

Koury also said the city does not need any more organizations.

&#8220It seems we need to fine tune” the organizations we have instead of adding more &#8220bureaucracies with lucrative salaries,” Koury said.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman chose not to comment on Koury’s comments.