New look for Civic Auditorium
Renovations a highlight for West Memphis Conventions and Visitors Bureau
As the old saying goes, busy people get things done. For West Memphis Conventions and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jim Jackson that is especially true. Jackson, through the CVB and its governing board the Advertising and Promotions Commission, logged a year that was both busy and productive in 2017. The CVB managed a $1.6 million budget.
Jackson gleamed as he spoke of the biggest breakthrough of the year. After a generation long quest for welcome signs, the A& P landed on two Interstate spots atop the St. Francis Levee.
“The things I’m proud of the most are the new welcome signs,” said Jackson.
“It was a long time coming. We’ve got a couple more to do this year. We need to look at possibilities coming in from the west and, most challenging, one coming from the north. The signs give travelers a place marker, let’s them know they are in Arkansas and not just the west part of Memphis.”
The civic auditorium renovation began and was completed last week. Closed for six months for renovations, the auditorium hosted three dozen events with 13,000 visitors. Promised renovations brought four new dance competitions to the venue, with at least seven dance groups expected to book for 2018. Across the way, the Eugene Woods Civic Center also underwent a technology facelift bringing screens, projectors, and conference calling capabilities to the meeting rooms. New paint, carpet and window treatments completed the update. Rest room renovations and upgrades making a modest commercial grade kitchen remodeling are underway.
Civic center visitors numbered nearly 11,000.
“We are proud of the renovations,” said Jackson.
“The Omega Psi Phi fraternity talent show was the first event on Saturday night with about 600 in attendance. I am proud of the A& P for reinvesting in these properties.”
The CVB sponsored many events and promoted them using Facebook, Google and Trip Advisor, which helped fill local hotel rooms and restaurant tables. The Bill Dance Catfish Championship brought in 500 anglers and sold out local hotels. The 2018 captains meeting will be at the civic center in September with the big space devoted to vendor trade show exhibits for boats and all things catfish. Annual blues music awards, the Big River Blues Show and the Southland softball classic were local events bringing in travelers last year with repeat performances anticipated for this year.
The CVB invested big in cycling tourism during 2017. The A& P underwrote much of the development expenses for the Delta River Regional Park. Cy- cling and hiking are open along a five mile trail system between the Interstate bridges. The trail way connects to the Big River Crossing (BRX) for which the A& P also chipped in.
The BRX averaged 636 visitors during the first full year open to the public.
Two cycling events brought 117 cyclists to town, the 62 mile Delta Flatlander ride to Horseshoe Lake and back and the Gravel Grinder through the river park and across levee tops spun two-wheel successful awareness building among pedal-pushers from around the region and with local business owners. Jackson made some observations and cast a big vision for the future.
“There is budding entrepreneurship on the east end of town, said Jackson. “I can see Pancho’s obviously and CJ’s, the Blues club on the east end, made an outdoor area for cyclists to come on in. More and more of that will come about.
The ultimate goal with the easy access on the Interstate and the BRX, is for people that work downtown to live over here, investing in some kind of loft or condos.”
The A& P addressed tourist safety and kicked the money for the West Memphis Police Department to purchase four Sky Cops to be stationed in tourist areas along the service roads.
“Locations will be in the hotel areas and along exits from town on entrances to the interchange,” said Jackson.
Sometimes CVB events bring people into town, sometimes community events bring people out in the town. Freedom Fest brought 3,000 residents to Tilden Rodgers park to celebrate Independence Day.
The Christmas lights in Worthington Park make for a worthwhile family outing and new banners and LED lit snowflakes warmed the winter spirit up and down Missouri Street. The summer and winter community cost $70,000 combined.
“We had new displays in the park and ride and a cycling Santa at the Big River Trail head at MLK Boulevard and Broadway,” said Jackson. “Look for more new additions in 2018.”
The CVB is set to play host to the 42nd annual Governors Conference on tourism slated for March at Southland.
By John Rech