Cape tourism money aimed at downtown

Friday, October 22, 2004

Cape Girardeau should spend some of its $1 million tax surplus on downtown public restrooms, a riverfront amphitheater and a trolley to help boost tourism, the Convention and Visitors Bureau advisory board said Thursday.

The items were among 23 spending proposals, most of them only vaguely outlined and totaling no more than half a million dollars combined, that were included in a recommendation made by the advisory board. The plan currently doesn't have specific cost figures for each tourism project.

High-ticket items such as a water park, hockey rink, indoor tennis center or convention facility were left out of the plan because there wasn't enough money to fund them, visitors bureau officials said.

The plan will go to the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce board of directors next month for its approval. The chamber operates the visitors bureau under a contract with the city.

More specific details and cost figures then will be developed by the strategic planning committee of the advisory board before the final plan is presented to the city council by December.

The council has the final authority on how the surplus restaurant and motel tax money, collected over the years, will be spent.

It's recommended that the tax dollars be used as seed money for projects. Funding would be capped at typically no more than 25 percent of project cost and at most no more than 50 percent, visitors bureau officials said.

The plan drawn up by the board's strategic planning committee recommends spending no more than half of the surplus motel and restaurant tax money on such tourism projects.

Chuck Martin, visitors bureau director, said the goal is to put aside at least half of the surplus money for future tourism projects that might arise.

"This $1 million is finite," agreed Bill Kiel, visitors bureau board chairman. "It is not a windfall we can expect again."

The visitors bureau earlier this year solicited suggestions from the public on how to spend the surplus money. Visitors bureau officials said more than 100 suggestions were received, including some for expensive projects. A water park and a hockey rink were among those suggestions.

The visitors bureau plan calls for spending money in five categories: signs and beatification; Civil War and other historic projects; exhibits; riverfront improvements; and more marketing efforts.

The plan would spend money on welcome signs, directional signs and billboards to get traveling motorists to leave Interstate 55 and visit the city.

As to possible historic attractions, recommendations include as-yet-unspecified improvements to Cape Rock Park overlooking the Mississippi River and development of driving tours to draw tourists to the city's historic sites.

Martin said the recommendations include the possible development of a small science center and securing a traveling Smithsonian exhibit.

The plan recommends creating a riverfront amphitheater, either as a concrete structure or on a barge, as well as building permanent public restrooms in the downtown area and establishment of a trolley system to shuttle tourists to various tourist attractions.

The visitors bureau board said the city needs downtown public restrooms if it wants to draw more tourists to the floodwall murals and other attractions.

A trolley would be a big help too, board members said.

"If you want to be a tourism place, you have to have a trolley," board member Tim Blattner said.

335-6611, extension 123

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