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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Nov. 22, 201212:00 PM EST

Visit Jacksonville marketing campaign funds on hold

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Based on uncertainty over the identity and arrival date of the next CEO of Visit Jacksonville, the Duval County Tourist Development Council last week postponed action on a request from the organization for $496,343 in additional marketing campaign funds.

The campaign presented by Visit Jacksonville staff included television advertisements on Travel Channel, billboards in North Carolina and Cocoa Beach, a marketing campaign in movie theaters in conjunction with Visit Florida, print advertisements in several print media and a February and March marketing campaign in Philadelphia.

The motion to approve the request, equal to 10 percent of Visit Jacksonville's annual budget, failed on a 3-3 vote.

TDC member Sonny Bhikha and City Council members Richard Clark and Warren Jones voted in favor of the request; TDC members Henry Fonde, David Potts and Fred Pozin voted to reject the request.

"We don't need to micromanage. Our purpose is to market our region," said Bhikha.

Pozin said he didn't want to approve funding the campaign until the new CEO is on the staff to approve specifics of the additional marketing effort.

"I want to see the new CEO in place," Pozin said.

Visit Jacksonville has recruited a new president and CEO to replace Daniel O'Byrne, whose tenure at the agency was terminated last December by the executive committee of Visit Jacksonville's board of directors, said Kerri Stewart, interim president and CEO. Stewart took over day-to-day operations when O'Byrne was terminated.

Stewart is senior vice president at Infinity Global Solutions and was chief administrative officer for former Mayor John Peyton.

Visit Jacksonville is the brand identity for the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitor Bureau. It is the marketing arm of the Tourist Development Council, which administers funds collected under the "bed tax" on hotel rooms in Duval County.

Stewart refused to name O'Byrne's successor. She said the recruited president and CEO has not yet signed a contract with Visit Jacksonville, but has tendered his resignation with his current employer. Stewart said his last day in his current position will be Dec. 31 or when his replacement is named. She said she expects the new executive will be in Jacksonville by the second week of January.

"Transparency is very important in today's world. They (Visit Jacksonville) are our contractor. I hope the atmosphere of no transparency will change," Pozin said after the meeting adjourned.

Visit Jacksonville again may request the additional marketing budget appropriation Feb. 21 at the tourist council's next scheduled meeting.

Tourism development support funds were approved Thursday for 12 events, including:

• A grant of up to $60,000 for national and regional marketing, based on 6,000 room nights, for One Spark 2013, a new Downtown festival scheduled April 17-21.

• Florida's First Coast Softball Tournaments received a grant up to $30,000 for marketing, room rental and welcome reception for the 2012-13 seasons, based on $10 per room night.

• Springing the Blues was approved for a grant up to $20,000 for regional marketing and advertising, based on 4,000 room nights.

• Three events scheduled at the Equestrian Center. The National Team Roping League Finals Jan. 25-27 and NTRL Truck Roping can receive up to $10,000 for national marketing and regional advertising, based on 1,200 room nights. The National Barrel Horse Association 2013, scheduled March 13-17, was granted up to $5,000 for marketing, room rental and a welcome reception based on 550 room nights.

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