Clarksdale native Bubba O’Keefe has spent much of the past three decades revitalizing the downtown area and looking for ways to draw tourists to the community.
O’Keefe will now have his chance to build on his knowledge and experience as he has accepted an offer to be the new executive director of the Coahoma County Tourism Commission. His starting date is expected to be Jan. 1, 2019.
“I’m very honored and excited,” O’Keefe said. “It’s something that I’m very passionate about and have been for quite some years now. I just appreciate them having the confidence in me. I look forward to really trying to take tourism in Clarksdale to the next level.”
O’Keefe said he has worked with the Americana Music Triangle, which ties Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans together, for quite some time. He said he will look to connect the town more in the triangle to have a relationship to pass on guests from one town to another. He also hopes to build up social media and try to advance the marketing in the triangle area.
“I’m also working with a company out of London called Sound Diplomacy,” he said. “They’re worldwide. One of the clients is the Walton Family Foundation, so I look forward to them, as I have in the past, but there’s a lot of things we can do just trying to connect all of the people involved in tourism inside of Clarksdale just to be aware of what tourism is doing, be aware of the people that are coming in – groups, writers or travel agents – just being more informative.”
Kappi Allen, who is being investigated for misappropriated funds by state auditor Penn Mills, resigned from the position in February. There have been two search processes since the position opened.
After candidates were interviewed the first go round, the board decided to reopen the search. Thirteen candidates from Clarksdale and other areas applied the second time around and then the offer was made to O’Keefe.
The four board members who have been involved with this entire search process for the second round — chair Al Jones, Roger Stolle, Bill Gresham and Wilhelmina Newson — all voted during an executive session to make O’Keefe an offer to be the new executive director. New board member Madge Howell did not vote.
O’Keefe accepted the offer to be the new tourism director and the board officially announced it at today's meeting.
The board unaninmously voted to let attorney Ed Peacock put together O'Keefe's contract to be reviewed. Gresham, also an attorney, will be assisting Peacock in the process.
Stolle founded the Juke Joint Festival with O’Keefe in 2004, which is every April and the biggest single event in Clarksdale.
“Bubba has been doing tourism with a small t since I was a tourist in the late 1990s,” Stolle said. “When I came to town, it became almost a joke because I would run into Bubba somewhere every single trip. He would talk up anything he knew about, whether it was a place to visit, a music event happening or even trying to talk me into staying at some of the more interesting places for overnight stay.
“We used to call him the ambassador for Clarksdale. That used to be our joke nickname back then. Then, I moved here and we started talking about the potential downtown, the potential of blues and what we call cultural tourism and really started trying to brainstorm and work on projects — sometimes together and sometimes independently, but we still talk it out with each other.”
Stolle praised O’Keefe for building multiple overnight apartments downtown, the Travelers Hotel set to open in 2019 and what became Yazoo Pass restaurant.
O’Keefe, who missed the deadline to apply for the position the first time, said his efforts and hard work will show the long hiring process was worthwhile. He grew up in Clarksdale, but moved to Jackson for five years when starting a family and came home in the early 1990s to be near his relatives.
“While I was in Jackson, I just felt a call to come back home,” he said. “I was just another brick in the wall, another person on the street in Jackson. There wasn’t anything I could really do to impact or change Jackson.”
When O’Keefe came home, he said there was little activity downtown and his passion for revitalizing the area began.
While he owns many buildings, he said others manage most of his properties and will be encouraging tourists to stay at all locations in town. He added he believes there will be enough tourists to stay everywhere.