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- 2012 - September - 21st -

TDC approves new contract with Visit Jacksonville

by Max Marbut, Staff Writer

The Tourist Development Council approved a new five-year agreement with Visit Jacksonville, a convention and tourism marketing agency, 10 days before its current contract was to expire before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

The council approved the measure during a special meeting Thursday.

Also on the agenda were Visit Jacksonville’s 2012-13 marketing plan and budget, which turned out to be the main topics of discussion.

Both were approved, but not unanimously.

The contract renewal will allow Visit Jacksonville to hire a new president and CEO to replace Daniel O’Byrne, whose contract was terminated last December by Visit Jacksonville’s board of directors.

Kerri Stewart, senior vice president at Infinity Global Solutions, was named interim president and CEO a week after O’Byrne left the agency.

Board Chairman Bill Prescott, CFO of the Jacksonville Jaguars, said a permanent candidate has been identified and can be hired now that Visit Jacksonville’s contract will be renewed through fiscal 2016-17.

Expenditures for Visit Jacksonville’s administrative expenses and salary and benefits in particular were questioned by TDC member Fred Pozin, who cited the $1.7 million payroll cost in the 2012-13 budget.

Its total budget for 2012-13 is just under $3.5 million, based on 70 percent of the total local option tourist development tax — also called the bed tax — collected in Duval County during the last fiscal year.

Visit Jacksonville is the sales and marketing arm of the TDC, which is the governing body that oversees collection and distribution of the bed tax.

Prescott said the salary for Visit Jacksonville’s proposed new executive is “significant” but “City leaders are excited about him.”

The candidate has not been publicly identified.

Pozin, general manager of the Ramada Inn Mandarin, suggested that Visit Jacksonville spend less of its budget on payroll to devote more funds to marketing.

“You should spend more on putting heads in beds,” Pozin said.

Prescott said the administrative portion of the payroll budget represents the president, controller and a secretary.

“There’s only so much you can cut,” he said.

“I’m not going to ask them to find a cheaper CEO. I want the best guy for the job,” said City Council and TDC member Richard Clark.

Pozin cast the lone votes against approval of the budget and marketing plan. He said the trend for the past five years at Visit Jacksonville has been to spend less each year on marketing and more each year on personnel costs.

“I want to see $100,000 less in administrative cost and $100,000 more in marketing. I want to see them live on less,” he said.

Stewart said the board has done everything in its power to control payroll.

“We have gone from 29 people to 22 people. I don’t know how you sell this community without people. The board has looked at staff expenses ad nauseam for six months,” she said.

On the marketing topic, Visit Jacksonville Director of Marketing & Product Development Katie Kurycki said convention and tourism business was up 11 percent in August compared to last year and there is a new marketing focus.

“We’re developing new leads and new business that has never been to Jacksonville before,” she said.

Other areas Visit Jacksonville will focus on in the coming year will be growing the amateur and youth sports tourism sector and the military, educational, fraternal and multicultural group markets.

mmarbut@baileypub.com

@drmaxdowntown

356-2466

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