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- 2013 - February - 22nd -

TDC cuts funding requests to Visit Jacksonville, Jazz Festival: Jazz Fest told to find title sponsor

by David Chapman, Staff Writer

The Duval County Tourist Development Council on Thursday approved $400,000 for Visit Jacksonville's marketing budget and $20,000 for the 2013 Jacksonville Jazz Festival, but combined, the amounts were almost $130,000 less than what was requested.

Visit Jacksonville sought more than $496,000 for media advertising for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

"I don't mind them holding our feet to the fire," Paul Astleford, Visit Jacksonville president and CEO, said after the meeting.

He said based on what he learned at his first council meeting, he is OK with how the funding allocations were handled. Astleford was named the organization's leader in January and has been making the rounds to business, government and community groups to introduce himself.

The TDC is the governing body that oversees the collection and distribution of the local-option tourist development tax. The nine-member board is appointed by the City Council and is chaired by the Council president.

In addition, it consists of two other elected officials, three representatives of the hospitality industry affected by the tax and three people in the tourism industry.

During the meeting, Astleford pitched for the full $496,000 by saying "every dollar is going to count" when competing with other cities that have higher marketing budgets.

The organization already has about $216,000 programmed for advertising for the year. It also has about $240,000 in surplus and about $50,000 in savings from when the organization had no CEO.

Astleford said those funds will be devoted to marketing and when combined with the $400,000 is less than $1 million, which is "still a very small amount" when compared to what competing cities spend on image-building.

The $96,000 could be allocated to Visit Jacksonville's budget during the May 16 meeting after the organization's board determines where to allocate the savings.

Astleford also will present Visit Jacksonville's marketing plan and direction at the council's next quarterly meeting.

He told council members of the need "to put Jacksonville on the map" and improve its image, which is what his marketing plan is intended to do. He also said there was a shift in focus this year to dedicate more advertising dollars to the Atlanta area during the summer rather than the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania markets. He also indicated his intent to focus more funds on attracting leisure travelers rather than events and convention travel.

In addition, Astleford said he wanted more return-on-investment research to better determine the benefit of the organization's spending.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival also received less funding than requested.

Tonisha Landry-Gaines, City Special Events director, made the presentation to the Council seeking $50,000 for a guarantee of 1,750 rooms at $28.58 per room night and a projected 3,500 rooms at $14.29 per room night. Last year's event brought in 1,700 room nights, said Landry-Gaines.

The funds would be used for regional and national promotion.

Member Fred Pozin amended the grant amount to not exceed $20,000 and $10 per room night.

Asked by Council member Warren Jones for his rationale, Pozin said the event has been "a little bit of a rollercoaster."

He said the council has requested the funding amount to be continually lowered and a title sponsor be found to make the annual festival self-funded.

Pozin said the funding has become less each year to "send a message" that a title sponsor is needed.

"This event should be well on its own by now," Pozin said.

Last year the festival received $25,000 from the council.

The festival has a budget of about $600,000, Landry-Gaines said.

Council President Bill Bishop agreed with the "rollercoaster ride" description and said he was surprised the event is not self-funded, but despite that the event is still a "big deal" and not one he wanted to lose.

dchapman@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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