By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor
Belleville council member lobbies county for financial support, help with oversight of TIC
The work to promote tourism should be a county effort, believes Belleville City Council member Doane Sells.
On Monday, he pitched that idea to Republic County Commissioners, asking for funding and members to serve on an expanded board to oversee the operations of the Belleville Travel Information Center.
“I’ve touched base with a lot of people in the county that support (the travel center), but a lot of people don’t know a lot about what going on there,” Sells said.
All communities in the county are impacted by the TIC, said Sells, “but as a city (Belleville is) paying for it”.
The TIC has been a regular topic at the city council meetings. This fall, the council decided on a split vote to close the center, located at US81 at 12th ST, on December 31.
City officials say the facility, which provides tourist information and souvenirs, has operated at a loss for a number of years. The problem was compounded this year when the Kansas Department of Transportation closed the 12th ST exit due to road construction. The street was recently reopened, but city officials fear it will be closed again next spring when the contractor finishes the second half of the US81 project.
Sells told commissioners he believes some of the council members who voted to close the center are “leaning” towards changing their mind.
Sells said the center operated for 25 years with little outside input except from the staff who works there.
He said he and supporters have researched other options for funding the TIC. Those options may include a change in how souvenirs and gifts are marketed, selling advertising to communities and tourist sites to promote special events, and asking the Belleville Convention and Tourism board to allocate some monies generated by a city bed tax to the TIC.
He asked the commission to help support the TIC financially as well. Commission chairman Ed Splichal told Sells that would be difficult for the county in 2017 since the budget is already set, but urged Sells to seek grant funding through the Republic County Community Foundation, Dane Hansen Foundation and Duclos Foundation.
“One thing we’ve always preached since I’ve been on the (county commission) is economic development, and the TIC is a big piece of economic development,” said Commissioner Linda Holl. “It leads people all around the county.”
Sells said the impact of the TIC is difficult to document.
“There’s no good way to calculate it, but a lot of people stop there,” he said. “Belleville and Republic County need to have all identity we can, and the TIC is a positive identity compared to the old building situation downtown,” he said, referring to the Republic Hotel block that the city expects to demolish soon. “Look at all the money we’ve already spent before the buildings are even torn down.”
Sells said he visited with another city recently that expects to hire a recreation director for a $50,000 salary.
“(That city) is willing to spend $50,000 on a rec director and the City of Belleville doesn’t want to support a $20,000 transfer to support visitor center year around,” he said