Matt Dunn, 39, named Vice President for tourism today–he’ll be in charge of a $900,000 budget controlling Flagler’s marketing–owned his own events company in St. Johns County, worked with Flagler’s tourism council previously, and was Executive Director of the Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Ocala/Marion County Sports Commission.
Georgia Turner, the county’s radiant tourism director who oversaw Flagler’s and Palm Coast’s realignment as niche sports destinations, a steady rise in tourism-tax revenue and a first-ever working coalition of local arts groups, is leaving after just two years on the job. Personal, not political, reasons led her to the decision.
County Commissioner George Hanns and Administrator Craig Coffey had talked of absorbing the tourism office–currently a branch of the chamber of commerce–into county government. It won’t happen. Rather, Tourism Director Georgia Turner is talking of having a stand-alone tourism office in a few years.
The first annual Flagler Film Festival will be held Jan. 10-12 at Palm Coast’s Hilton Garden Inn, and will include shorts and feature films, totaling about 24 hours worth of reels, from filmmakers around the world and the States, but organizers are pressing for Flagler County entrants.
In Flagler County, 2,600 people work in tourist businesses, which have weathered the recession and are seeing strong, sustained activity. Flagler County’s annual Hospitality Employees Recognition of Excellent Service (or H.E.R.O.E.S.) awards lunch at the Hammock Beach Resort Thursday was an occasion for the county’s tourism industry to cheer its own.
An emerging arts alliance for Palm Coast and Flagler County would capitalize on the economic benefits of an arts scene with more coordinated projects and strategy, led by the tourism council’s conciliating voice of Georgia Turner. Obstacles remain, however.
The changes, affecting $100,000 in bed-tax dollars county government, through the tourism council, awards organizations that put on special events, would dispense with the requirement that organizations spend the money advertising their event, and would allow them to spend it on incidental expenses that may be more difficult to track.
The Palm Coast Arts Foundation, lease finally in hand, plans to raise up to $7 million and build an events venue in Town Center, the first phase of a much bigger plan that would culminate in a $30 million, 2,300-seat performing arts center. It faces a tide of difficulties in a fractured arts community.
The $100,000 budget increase over the current year led one commissioner to raise objections over a doubling in rent costs and a tripling in furniture costs, while another commissioner objected to the rebranding of tourism efforts to include Palm Coast on par with Flagler’s beaches.
Georgia Turner, Flagler’s new tourism chief, had her debut before the Tourist Development Council Wednesday as the council approved grants totaling $170,000, including underwriting for two popular and growing local conferences that attract numerous out-of-towners.