When out-of-towners take a trip to Lynchburg, their first stop is often at the downtown visitor's center.
The facility and a large-scale marketing effort called "Discover Lynchburg" are managed by the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, through a contract with the city government.
The contract expires December 31 and city council has chosen not to renew it.
"I think the chamber did an outstanding job," said Barry Moore, a past chairman of the city's tourism board who is disappointed to see the partnership end.
"They were terrific and did great work," Moore said. "They achieved all of the metrics, objectives, and beyond."
The tourism program costs the city more than a million dollars each year. It's a wise investment, according to hospitality leaders, because the city earned more than $160-million last year from visitor spending.
Lynchburg's mayor Mike Gillette says city council wasn't necessarily dissatisfied with the chamber's performance. They simply wanted more control over the way tourism dollars are spent.
"We're moving in a different direction, but the tourism program will remain alive and well," Gillette said.
By moving the tourism program in-house, city leaders hope to make it more efficient.
Some worry that will lead to reduced funding.
"I fear there will be less oversight, less attention on performance, and tourism will basically be relegated to some corner of city operations and not at the forefront," said Greg Starbuck, chairman of the tourism board.
City officials announced Thursday afternoon that they plan to keep the tourism program intact, which includes hiring all of the current tourism staff members.
Here is the full text of a city press release on the tourism contract:
Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne and Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Tulane Patterson issued a joint statement today, Thursday, November 7, saying that despite the best efforts of both parties, the City and the Chamber were not able to reach agreement on several issues essential to an ongoing relationship regarding the contract for tourism services. The City of Lynchburg will take over the administration of its tourism program from the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce beginning January 1, 2014.
A fundamental challenge was the City’s desire to control annual funding and the Chamber’s need for a long term financial commitment from the City. This proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to reaching a new agreement.
“City Council has decided that a substantial long term contractual commitment of the City’s resources for services in today’s unpredictable economic environment is not in the best interest of the taxpayers,” said City Manager Payne. “The City needs to maintain control of its budget on an annual basis which is why City contracts include non-appropriations and termination clauses. The current tourism contract does not allow that to happen, and we could not find a way to reconcile our differences on this matter.”
Chamber Board Chairman Tulane Patterson said he appreciated the City’s position, but emphasized that the Chamber could not operate effectively without such a commitment. “We understand City Council’s hesitation in making a long term budget commitment given the financial and revenue uncertainties of the last few years. Taking the tourism program in-house will hopefully allow the City to achieve its goal of better fiscal control over its own budget.”
Both Payne and Patterson agreed that though the relationship between the City and the Chamber has been strained on occasion, the partnership has been positive overall and has left the tourism program in excellent shape to move forward.
“The Chamber remains committed to the Lynchburg tourism effort and will support the City in any way it can in the future to ensure the program’s success,” said Patterson.
Payne concluded by saying that it is the City’s intention to maintain a high quality tourism program that continues to attract visitors to the community and serves the program’s various stakeholders. He plans to move the entire program and staff intact under city administration to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.