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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 14, 201706:50 AM EST

The Cawton Report: Visit Jacksonville seeks contract, outlines plans

Tourism agency wants to leave Laura Street office, add kiosks.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

Visit Jacksonville wants to make substantial changes to how it interacts with tourists coming to town, but will need to land a third contract with the city to do so.  

The tourism agency hopes to secure a three-year, $350,000 annual tourism bureau services agreement with the Tourism Development Council and is a step closer to negotiating that contract after formally interviewing for it last week.

The company’s plan, presented at the Competitive Sealed Proposal Evaluation Committee meeting a week ago, includes adding five visitor kiosks throughout the city, the purchase and retrofit of a mobile visitor bureau and a plan to vacate its Downtown Laura Street storefront by 2019

Visit Jacksonville also wants to upgrade its existing visitor centers at the Beaches Museum & History Park in Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville International Airport.

Plans include enhanced video boards, virtual reality centers and large-scale maps.

According to its bid submission, Visit Jacksonville plans to leave its Downtown Visitor Center at 208 N. Laura St. and potentially move to a renovated shipping container next to Friendship Fountain, at least temporarily.

Katie Mitura, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Jacksonville, told the TDC the city-owned property would be ideal since it has plenty of foot traffic.

The shipping container would work as transitory space while the agency builds a semi-permanent location next to the Museum of Science & History in 2018. By 2019, Visit Jacksonville would open a fully integrated visitor center within the museum, although no agreement has been reached with MOSH.  

Visit Jacksonville also is considering constructing a temporary center at the end of Hogan Street near the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, then moving to a permanent home near the center by the Northbank Riverwalk.

Mitura said the Laura Street lease expires in April 2020, but the agency has the option to sublease the space or use it for events while it transitions to a temporary home in 2019.

If the contract is approved, Mitura said the agency would begin building outdoor kiosks in the first year at St. Johns Town Center, the JaxPort Cruise Terminal, the Prime Osborn Convention Center and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

A fifth kiosk would be put up near Beaches Town Center, the area where Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach meet at First Street and Atlantic Boulevard.

Mitura told the board the kiosks would cost about $40,000. If the contract is approved, funding wouldn’t be available until February, and the build-out could take about six months.

By the second year, Mitura said the company would purchase and launch a mobile visitor center and move from Laura Street. She said Visit Jacksonville has done initial research on the mobile center, acknowledging the concept “has worked in some places but has been less successful in other cities.”

Visit Jacksonville hopes to be in a permanent home for its visitor center by the end of the third year.

Visit Jacksonville was one of two companies to bid for the contract and the only one allowed to move on to the interview and scoring portion of the Request for Proposals process.

City Council President and TDC Chair Anna Lopez Brosche said the other agency, Bold City Tours, did not score high enough in its initial submission to warrant an interview.

According to the RFP, Visit Jacksonville’s submission is scored in two areas. It can receive a maximum of 40 points for its Tourist Bureau Conceptual Operation Plan, which includes the changes to the visitor centers and the expansion of the outdoor kiosks.  Another 10 points can be awarded for financial stability, or how it maintains its annual $350,000 budget.

In addition to the money from the TDC, Visit Jacksonville receives a $48,000 stipend from the Jacksonville Aviation Authority for its visitor center at JIA. That money is funneled through the TDC.

The authority’s terminal operations manager, Bryan Long, called Visit Jacksonville’s staff “an integral part of the airport team” in a letter of recommendation sent to the TDC in April.

The contract would be the third Visit Jacksonville has negotiated with the TDC.

They also are concluding talks for a $2.5 million marketing contract and a $2 million convention sales and services contract. Both would be for five years, with an option to extend the commitments.

Brosche said because council will be on a break for the next two weeks, TDC likely will extend a temporary contract at its meeting Thursday so the agency can maintain operations under a previous contract through the beginning of 2018.

“We want to make sure we have enough time to look at their proposal,” Brosche said.

The Tourist Development Council meets at 2 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

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