CVB promotes Cape with series of historical billboards on I-55

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Doug Austin was driving back from St. Louis Tuesday when he noticed a billboard depicting two famous frontiersmen.

The wording below the black-and-white portrait both startled and amused the retired Cape Girardeau resident: "Stop for food or supplies in Cape Girardeau. Lewis and Clark did."

"I thought it was great," said Austin, the former marketing director for the state of Oklahoma. "What a great way to spend some money to get people to come to Cape and spend some money. I bet they'll get a lot of bang for their buck."

That's what city tourism officials are banking on. Six billboards picturing historical figures were erected last week between Festus and Hayti in an attempt to pull tourists -- and their wallets -- off Interstate 55.

Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Chuck Martin said the billboards are part of a bigger strategy to bolster Cape Girardeau's tourism pull. The strategy also includes a new CVB Web site, a signage project, regional advertising and a joint effort with Southeast Missouri State University to put more billboards in the St. Louis area in about a month or so.

"All this stuff is part of one big puzzle," Martin said. "The billboards tie into an overall effort to get people inquiring about Cape. We want people to pull off the interstate, spend the night, shop, stop in to eat, see our riverfront and our historic downtown."

The six billboards cost $25,000 to create and place on the interstate, Martin said.

The billboards -- conceived and designed by Red Letter Communications in Cape Girardeau -- consist of images of President U.S. Grant, Mark Twain and Lewis and Clark. The billboards also promote various aspects of Cape Girardeau.

For example, the Grant billboard says: "Stay the night in Cape Girardeau. General Grant did." Beneath that the billboard says "Exits 93-99. Hotels, B&B and nearly 1,000 rooms. Those billboards are just south of Festus near St. Louis and just south of Hayti in the Bootheel.

The Mark Twain billboards are just north of Perryville and just south of Sikeston. The Lewis and Clark billboards, which promote the city's 125 restaurants and 500 retail outlets, are located near Biehle and between Sikeston and Benton.

David Coleman, associate creative director at Red Letter Communications, came up with the concept, and regional artist Holly Dirnberger painted the original artwork.

Coleman said he chose black and white to distinguish the billboards from the color overload of other billboards.

"There's a historical aspect, and the black and white went well with that," Coleman said. "You also don't assault the senses like other billboards do. These are nice clean images."

CVB board chairman Bill Kiel, who also is the executive director of the Saint Francis Medical Center Foundation, said another part of the marketing plan calls for putting 32 signs around town. The signs will direct visitors to the university campus, the Show Me Center, the downtown area, the Mississippi River and the visitor's center, which eventually will be at the River Campus.

The signs will mainly run along Highway 74, William and Broadway.

"I've seen people get off the highway, drive three or four blocks into town and head back because they don't see anything exciting," Kiel said. "We want to let them know that there is plenty of excitement here."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 13

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