CARBONDALE — During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Carbondale City Council voted to make Southernmost Illinois Tourism the city’s official convention center and visitors bureau.
Over the past eight months, the City Council has heard presentations from Carbondale Tourism, Discover Downstate Illinois (formerly ILLINOISouth Tourism) and Southernmost Illinois Tourism, which pleaded their case to become the city’s next tourism bureau. The deadline for the city council to notify the Illinois Office of Tourism of its decision is March 31, 2023.
In addition to the state funds, Carbondale will grant up to $10,000 for a new tourism bureau to promote Carbondale.
The council had three options. They could choose Southernmost Illinois Tourism (which covers most of our area), open Downstate Illinois, or continue with Carbondale Tourism and work to restructure the organization.
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Council member Lee Fronabarger moved to approve the use of Southernmost Illinois Tourism as the city’s convention and visitor bureau. The motion was then seconded by Councilor Jeff Doherty.
Each of the tourist offices has a designated service area.
Southernmost Illinois Tourism is the designated bureau for the area around Carbondale, including the rest of Jackson County. They promote Shawnee National Forest, Giant City State Park and other areas.
“Carbondale is inextricably linked to the Southernmost area,” Williams said.
With the additional funding, Southernmost can hire additional staff. Carbondale can provide space in its multimodal transportation center for a small tourism office.
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According to Williams, Carbondale currently gives $170,000 to the bureau they use now, Carbondale Tourism.
Amy Dion, a member of the Carbondale Tourism Board, said Carbondale Tourism promotes events, small businesses and products made in the city. They also rent a building from a local business owner.
“I don’t know who the voice of the city is going to be if you get rid of Carbondale Tourism,” Dion said.
William Law, executive director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, said Southernmost Tourism has one employee and few social media posts. They have assets of $412,000.
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“Looking at social media, they can’t advertise us,” Lo said.
“I think we can promote local tourism. Restructuring is the way to go,” said Megan Cole of Carbondale Main Street.
Tyler Dion was most recently the interim director of Carbondale Tourism. He told the council he was in the office every day.
Roni LeForge, the city’s public relations officer, has been researching tourism for the past year. She recommended the city go with Southernmost Tourism.
Don Monty asked how much of the city’s budget is used to fund Carbondale Tourism.
Williams said they gave Carbondale Tourism about $300,000 a year before the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, that number has been reduced to $170,000.
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Monty then asked if the rest of the city’s money would be used to hire staff who could produce videos.
Williams said they could use the money to hire a local person to promote and plan events, adding they think they could spend less money and have better results.
The council then votes on the proposal. Jeff Dougherty, Adam Loos and Lee Fronabarger voted in favor of approving Illinois’ southernmost tourism. Carolyn Harvey, Tom Grant and Ginger Rye-Sanders voted against. This left them tied.
The council debated what to do.
Loos said he would change his vote if the three dissenting council members wanted to use the state of Illinois as their tourism bureau.
Grant asked if the city plans to hire an employee to advertise events. Several people said that was the plan.
After a short discussion, they adjourned for 10 minutes.
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When they returned, Harvey said they could vote to reconsider if someone else made the motion. Motion to consider was made by Grant and seconded by Fronabarker.
The motion passed with Rye-Sanders voting against it, so they had more public discussion and board discussion.
Rye-Sanders asked who Marion used as her travel agency. They use Williamson County Tourism.
Thomas Gorley asked who appointed the Carbondale Tourism board, which is the city council.
“Could you not appoint a better council?” he asked.
The council then voted a second time on Fronabarger’s motion to approve Southernmost Illinois Tourism as the city’s official convention and tourism bureau.
Fronabarger, Doherty, Loos and Grant voted in favor of the motion. Rye-Sanders and Harvey voted against.
On Wednesday, the day after the meeting, Tyler Dion told The Southern that he was hired in January to work at the Carbondale tourism office.
The organization’s fiscal year ends on June 30. They will work until June as their government funding will continue until June.
The council must now confirm its decision to have Southernmost Tourism represent the City of Carbondale as its certified Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) by filing with the Illinois Office of Tourism by March 31, 2023, to receive state funding for the 2024 fiscal year .
“I’m not sure what they expect in the meantime,” Dion said.
He will continue to work and tie up loose ends. Carbondale Tourism is sponsoring the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta to be held in April.