The Clarksdale-Coahoma County Tourism Commission spent all of the $198,750 it received in CARES Act funds and used the opportunity to promote the community.
The funds came as a result of the COVID pandemic.
“We were supposed to spend all of it before Dec. 30, 2020, but they extended it the last week, so we had some little funds carried over,” said Clarksdale-Coahoma County Tourism Commission executive director Bubba O’Keefe at the Wednesday, May 12 board meeting.
“When we had the CARES Act funding, I used some of that funding to pay for our billboards and Live from Clarksdale. These were extensions that we normally would have paid out of our budget, but because I could qualify these for the CARES Act, I didn’t want to exhaust our general fund unnecessarily.”
O’Keefe said CARES Act expenses went toward items such as the touch screen kiosk in the tourism office that helps visitors plan, about seven billboards between Tupelo and Birmingham, between Jackson, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn., around Sikeston, Mo., between Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock, Ark., Natchez, Lula and Walls, an African-American heritage map and tourism maps.
The slogan was “Ready to road trip?... Safely!”
“At that time, it was before December,” O’Keefe said. “We were just planting a seed. When you’re ready, we’re ready. That’s basically what the question mark says.”
O’Keefe also reported, from the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2020 to the present day, the commission $72,109 less in tourism taxes than it did in the previous fiscal year in May 2020.
“That’s due to the pandemic and the winter months,” O’Keefe said.
The tourism tax comes from a one percent tax on food and beverages and a two percent tax on hotel packages.
O’Keefe said the tourism tax dollars are just beginning to increase as more visitors come to Clarksdale. Some of the added tax dollars that are expected to be generated will go toward marketing as there are not any other CARES Act funds.
“We’re really beefing up our marketing because we’re coming out of the pandemic and we positioned ourselves very well going into the pandemic,” O’Keefe said. “We don’t want to lose that ground.
“We’re going to be working hard. We’re doubling down on marketing. We want our retailers, our restaurants and all of our hotels to gear up because we’re out there selling Clarksdale and we want them to be ready to receive our gifts.”
In other business:
• The commission voted to pay $300 per episode for Ted Reed to film podcasts in Clarksdale focusing on the community every two weeks through the end of the calendar year.
O’Keefe said the episodes are 30 to 40 minutes. The episodes began during the Juke Joint Festival in April with many musicians in town.
“He wants it to be promoting his film, which is called Blues Trail Revisited,” O’Keefe said. “So the podcast is called Blues Trail Revisited. He had the best documentary at the New York City Film Festival last week.”
O’Keefe said Reed, who is out of the Boston area, won Oscars for documentary work and is well connected with the Clarksdale area. He added Reed guests, residents of Clarksdale and people at local restaurants.
“I’ll tell you this. I think it is excellent,” said tourism board president Roger Stolle. “I have listened to each one that has come out the day it came out. The quality is super high.”
• The commission had previously approved a $12,500 grant to promote the first Mighty Roots Music Festival in Clarksdale Oct. 1 and 2 on Stovall Farms.
Howard Stovall, who oversees the festival, had let the commission know one payment could come now for $7,500 and another $5,000 payment could come later.
“You’ve got to be fired up thinking about the festival in the fall,” said board vice president Willis Frazer Sr.
“It’s getting a lot of play out there,” O’Keefe said. “It’s well positioned, too. I think we’re going to have a good turnout.
“They got a resort status from the County. They are really putting it up with lights and infrastructure out there.”
• The board approved a $7,500 sponsorship for the 34th annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival August 13 to 15.
“I’m not telling them what to do, but I would like to talk with them about their marketing because there’s some things I feel strong about and some things that I think they really need to rethink,” O’Keefe said. “Our goal with doing sponsorships and grants is to build these festivals. That’s what keeps people coming.”
O’Keefe said regional TV would benefit marketing.
“I think there are things we can do that will save them some money and get them a bigger audience,” he said.
• O’Keefe said Ellis & Hirsberg CPA's PLLc would be auditing the commission and it would probably take about six weeks. He said nothing was wrong, but it had been several years.
“We’ve started our audit,” O’Keefe said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for our audit. It hasn’t been done since 2012, I believe.”