Tourism sets town schedule

Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Major street events now frozen


By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight County Tourism and the town of Smithfield have made some changes to better manage the impact of its specialty markets and other events held downtown. 

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Next year’s spring Vintage Market is being moved to the Isle of Wight County fairgrounds and Smithfield Town Council member Connie Chapman was appointed to the town’s special events committee to enhance communication about downtown events.

These and other changes were the subject of a wide-ranging interview last week between The Smithfield Times and Isle of Wight County Tourism Director Judy Winslow, Special Events Coordinator Cheryl Ketcham and Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

During the interview, tourism officials defended the agency’s strong role in scheduling major events in the historic district during the year. Tourism officials acknowledged there have been some problems as the agency continues to grow and expand — most recently being Christian Outreach’s decision to change its traditional Saturday in October for Souper Saturday due to added traffic generated by the new Vintage Market.

For example, moving to the fairgrounds will allow the spring Vintage Market to take place over two days instead of one, allow for more vendors, provide ample parking and not require any street closures, said Ketcham. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Autumn Vintage Market will remain in downtown Smithfield next year, but will be a smaller “boutique” event, said Winslow.

Due to Hurricane Matthew, this year’s Autumn Vintage Market was cancelled and a new date is in the works.

Winslow said the town has put a cap on the number of events that can be held downtown and at Windsor Castle Park that involve street closures.

“No new events, only possible events that will replace another event,” said Winslow of those that require street closures.

“We have reached our maximum level. That’s why we’re moving the Vintage Market to the fairgrounds,” she said of the spring event.

The Autumn Vintage Market, as well as the upcoming Christmas Market, includes closing part of Main Street in downtown Smithfield.

Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stephenson said the town will continue to accept applications for new special events, but they will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine the impact.

“Town Council has stated their reluctance to add more events to the calendar that close public streets,” he said.

Where the markets fit in

After Christian Outreach’s Souper Saturday and the town’s Christmas Parade were moved from their traditional dates due to increased traffic and scheduling conflicts with the Vintage Market and the Christmas Market, as well as other events, questions were raised on how the markets fit into traditional town and county schedules — and how those schedule changes were communicated to the public.

For example, Kiwanis members and some town leaders, including the mayor, were unaware that the Christmas Parade had been moved from Dec. 10 to Dec. 17 until alerted by The Smithfield Times, which was also unaware of the change until September. Kiwanis has traditionally held its Breakfast with Santa before the parade. This year, it will remain on Dec. 10 due to scheduling conflicts at The Smithfield Center.

Ketcham said everyone should have known because she had refrigerator magnets made in January with the new date and those were available at her table at the weekly Farmers Market, as well as being on the internet and in flyers. Ketcham said vendors and those participating in the parade were also notified many months ago.

“It’s everywhere,” Ketcham said of information concerning the decision to move the events.

Winslow blamed the Kiwanis leadership for not alerting its members in a timely fashion, saying that was not the fault of Tourism.

As for The Smithfield Times not being aware of the parade date change in January, Winslow said, “You guys might want to do a little more research in your work … we do.”

Tourism did not put out a traditional press release about the date change and it does not advertise in print locally, but instead runs ads in regional magazines, such as “Coastal Virginia.”

“We’re a marketing machine. Our goal is to get the word out,” said Winslow.

Recently, Chapman was added to the town’s special events committee to better facilitate communication about events to the rest of the council and the community, according to Winslow.

The special events committee, which reviews applications for events, is appointed by Mayor Carter Williams and includes, in addition to Chapman, town staff, members of the Smithfield Police Department, Winslow and Terry Rhinier, also of Tourism. Once the event details are hammered out, the application passes on to the Town Council police committee and then on to the entire town council for final approval, which is routinely given.

Robertson was surprised that there were no public hearings held concerning events that include road closures.

“I would have assumed the town would have public hearings,” said Robertson, adding that it would give residents a chance to be heard before the event is finalized.

Stephenson said that town council members may have discussed the need for public hearings, but it hasn’t been discussed at the committee level.

Winslow said downtown residents are alerted days before events with a letter on their doors, as well as having a “Downtown Resident” hangtag for their vehicles. They are also provided with phone numbers to call for concerns, she said.

Due to the popularity of the downtown hangtag, there is now one being made for residents of Jericho Estates to help those individuals better maneuver through traffic generated by Smithfield VA Events at Windsor Castle Park.

The hangtag idea, proposed by a downtown resident concerned about getting home with groceries during events with street closures, has “gone viral,” said Winslow.

As for potential inconvenience experienced by downtown residents, Ketcham said, “That’s one of the aspects when you choose to live downtown. You have to take all that into consideration when you choose to live somewhere.”

Like a small business

Ketcham describes the markets — to include the Saturday Farmers Markets as well as the specialty markets — as a sort of “small business” with a $3,000 contribution from the town of Smithfield and budgetary oversight and assistance from Isle of Wight County.

Revenue is generated through vendor fees, as well as sponsorships from businesses and organizations for a total of $64,000 for the 2016 calendar year, according to Ketcham.  

Those revenues, in turn, are used to pay Ketcham’s part-time salary, as well as an assistant, and expenses such as advertising, musicians, tables and chair rental, training and other expenses. Any money left over is carried over to the next year or used to increase advertising, Ketchum said.

“Everything she spends she has to earn, including her own salary,” said Winslow, who supervises Ketcham.

“It’s not like any other budget in the county. It’s not like a checkbook,” said Winslow.

Ketcham’s hourly salary of $20.19 is dictated by the county, Winslow said.

Ketcham said vendor fees are deposited into the county’s bank account and Isle of Wight County’s budget and finance department writes the checks for expenditures.

Because the county keeps the books, so to speak, the Market’s budget is audited along with other county departments, said Robertson.

Goal of tourism

Ketcham said she recently drove through North Carolina and was dismayed to see so many cute, but boarded up, small towns.

On the flip side, other towns are coming to Smithfield to learn how to enhance their downtown areas through tourism, said Winslow.

“Part of this is to keep small towns alive. Tourism is the fastest form of economic development that you will ever have. Ever,” said Winslow, adding that tourism trickles down to businesses located outside the downtown area.

“Our efforts are on our stakeholders, the people who rely on the tourism business to make money,” said Winslow.

Those benefits have to be weighed against “the six people who complain,” she said.

Robertson said the events could be an irritant to some and a boon to others, but the goal is to find a middle ground.

“People would love the problems we’ve got,” he said.

Winslow said Tourism evaluates each event in terms of how it can be improved and if the time and place were considered a good fit. Tourism also meets regularly with downtown business owners to discuss how events are impacting their bottom line, she said, adding that those meeting include a “report card.”

“We’re always willing to listen to feedback,” Winslow said.

At the same time, Tourism doesn’t want to negatively impact those local charitable organizations trying to raise money, such as Christian Outreach and Kiwanis, said Winslow.

That’s why Tourism is involved with Smithfield VA Events, Winslow said of the local for-profit corporation that hosts three festivals a year at Windsor Castle Park. Proceeds from the events are provided to local charities and non-profits, such as the Smithfield Lions Club and Smithfield Music.

The goal is to get people who live outside the county to come here, spend their money and leave, Winslow said.

“We hope it’s a fun event for the community too,” said Ketcham.  {/mprestriction}