Middlebury selectmen back marketing post

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday endorsed the concept of providing $25,000 in town money to pay a portion of the cost of a new local events marketing coordinator who would draw out-of-towners to spend money downtown and in other local businesses that serve visitors.
The goal of coordinator would be to produce more in town revenue through increased rooms and meals tax collections than the cost of the position.
“We look forward to this being not an expenditure but an investment,” said selectboard chair John Tenny.
“We would work hard to make this a self-funded position,” Ken Perine told the board.
Perine, president of the National Bank of Middlebury, along with NBM staffer Donna Donahue and Addison Independent publisher Angelo Lynn addressed selectmen on behalf of the Better Middlebury Partnership, which represents downtown businesses.
As sketched out by Perine, the marketing coordinator would work 25 hours a week promoting the four big downtown events organized by the BMP — the Spooktacular in October, Very Merry Middlebury in December, Winter Carnival and Chili Festival in February, and the new Middlebury Summer Festival, which is scheduled to debut Aug. 6 in the Marble Works.
The events that have already been held have undoubtedly been successful in terms of drawing huge crowds — many with their wallets open — to Middlebury. Perine pointed out that last Dec. 3 on the kick-off of the Very Merry Middlebury celebration, the Vermont Folklife Center saw 900 visitors, the most it has ever had in one day; the Henry Sheldon Museum tallied 800 visitors; and the Sweet Cecily business reported its best ever single day of sales that day.
The Chili Festival has been designated by state officials as one of the top 10 winter events in Vermont.
These events have been planned, organized, staffed and marketed by volunteers, many of them owners and employees of downtown businesses. Perine said volunteers will still be needed to run events, but what will cause the events to continue to grow and attract visitors from out of the area is marketing beyond Addison County.
“I think it is clear that marketing works,” Perine said in a letter to the board. “The time has come to provide this marketing with paid staff, alleviating the burden from volunteers who have their own businesses to run and before we lose them to burn out.”
In addition to coordinating and marketing the four big events, this employee would be the point person when dealing with Middlebury’s Downtown Designation (a state economic development initiative), and also help with other local events not centered on the downtown, like the influx of 1,000 skiers to the area late in February for a regional youth Nordic ski meet.
Lynn pointed out that the BMP has not had a director for months and as a result misses having a point person to coordinate downtown business activity. The new position could pick up some of those.
“There are a lot more things going on that that person will do that could help fill spaces in downtown … simple things that aren’t getting done now,” he said.
Perine, Donahue and Lynn stressed that the work of the marketing coordinator would help business beyond downtown, including gas stations, for example.
“Downtown does not work in a vacuum,” Perine said.
The proposed position would be a BMP employee paid $23,400 a year ($18 per hour) with some benefits, including $6,480 earmarked for health insurance. Rent for office space, phone, an Internet connection and other supplies would bring the total cost of the position to about $40,000. The local DIDC (Downtown Improvement District Corp.) would provide $10,000 and the BMP would provide $5,000 — one quarter of its total budget, Donahue said.
The BMP was asking for the balance to come from the town.
“I like the accountability of the three sources of funding,” said Selectman Dean George. “I’m glad the person would report to the BMP because I know the people who run that and I’m confident they’ll get the results we want.”
With the six selectmen at Tuesday’s meeting willing to give the green light to the $25,000 investment (Selectman Nick Artim was absent), the only thing left was to decide how to put it before the voters.
One option would be to warn it as a separate item for a March town meeting vote. Another is putting the expenditure in the municipal budget, which would show the selectmen’s  endorsement of the plan.
Since the selectboard has already warned a proposed municipal budget for 2011-2012 for a hearing next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building, the board could not immediately put it in the budget. But selectmen wanted to show they were behind the idea, and they voted to add it to the proposed municipal budget after next week’s hearing.
“I think it is really important to build on the successes we’ve had,” Donahue said. “I think a part-time person will pay for itself.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, selectman for now dropped the proposal to fund its part of a full-time economic development director whose task would be focused on local job creation, rather than marketing. Tenny asked the board and the public to discuss the $75,000-a-year (including benefits and infrastructure) position more before taking action.
“The best course of action seems to be to pull back and educate ourselves,” he said.

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