Weatherford Democrat

October 11, 2012

COLUMN: Funds should be used for tourist places

Marilyn Carter

— Where are the corporate conventions? Where are the events? Where are the tourists? Where are the tour buses?

The Weatherford Chamber of Commerce may indeed attend and represent Weatherford at all of the events they named and advertise in and spend all of the Hotel Occupany Tax funds but... Where are the results?

I have a few observations regarding the Weatherford Chamber and the HOT funds:

• If the city and the chamber have partnered since 1986 for the promotion of tourism in Weatherford then where are the tourists?

• Where are the tour buses? And what do they come to Weatherford to do? To see? On a daily basis? Notwithstanding the one day a year the Peach Festival and Christmas On The Square are held and the three to four days the rodeo is held.

Whereas, the Doss, Theatre Off The Square and The Texas Opry Theater either bring tourists to town daily or on multiple weekends all year round. Think about how much more they could do if they were supported financially by the city and the chamber of commerce.

This is not asking the chamber to support one special interest group! There are only four applicants for the hotel occupancy funds. The chamber gets the lion’s share with a small amount going to the Doss and nothing to the other two. All four of the applicants meet the criteria for the funds. No other groups or organizations have applied!

As far as the chamber communicating with the local hotels, they tell me “We are members of the chamber but we never hear from the chamber and only one or two hotels get all of the business via the chamber of commerce.”

And as far as communication from the chamber goes, The Texas Opry Theater was a member of the chamber from 2010-2011. I had to call them to ask about a ribbon cutting eight months into the membership. No one from the chamber visited us, came to any of our shows or events, informed us of any kind of advertising discounts or even included us in their 2012 application for funds. We were members but they named off everyone but the Texas Opry Theater. We had four organizations call us to ask about renting the facility for private functions, they called the chamber first but were told the only venues that existed in Weatherford were The Doss, WISD auditoriums and a couple of larger churches. The Doss was too small and one of the churches recommended The Texas Opry Theater.

So if we were ignored and left out as a member then what was the purpose of being a member of the chamber of commerce? The only time we ever heard from them was when it was time to renew the membership.

My complaint is that the chamber is a privately owned non-profit organization and is not owned by the City of Weatherford! They are no different from the other three applicants. However, they get all the funds they ask for on top of all of the income they receive from memberships and sponsorships, product sales, etc. I never said that HOT funds were used in the production of The Peach Festival but the chamber retains all of the income from the Peach Festival, too. They have and take an unfair advantage over the rest of us that put as many, if not more, “heads in beds” and bring in tourists to eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores, etc.

The Texas Opry Theater and Theatre Off The Square pay their own expenses out of their own funds to bring tourists and patrons to our events. Many of the tourists stay in our hotels and pay the Hotel Occupancy Tax. They also eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores and pay sales tax in our community. All of this the city gets the benefit of. However, we do not get any return on our investment. The chamber gets it all. They spend no funds out of their own pockets! They pay $1 per year rent on their building, they pay no property or personal property taxes. But we do! This is all part of our overhead. The chamber has none of those overhead expenses. They can pay extremely nice salaries and benefits to their employees. We cannot get halfway decent audiences because we cannot afford the high dollar advertising the chamber pays for out of city funds.

But my main question is: If they do all of the promotions listed above and have since 1986, then where are the results? Where are the small conventions and corporate events? Where are the tourists and where are the tour buses?

Do you see any? Oh no, there they go — bypassing Weatherford, down the interstate!

There are more tour buses in Granbury, in Bridgeport and in Abilene on a weekly basis then in Weatherford on an annual basis.

There is an auditorium and venue sitting here that seats 475 and is fully operational that the chamber and the CVB will not acknowledge that could be used for corporate events that would bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Weatherford economy. Why?

As of this date, no one from the chamber or the convention and visitors bureau has even bothered to contact me about these concerns. They don’t think they have to! They got all of their funds for next year so they are all set.

Marilyn Carter is co-owner of The Texas Opry Theater in Weatherford.