Members of the Franklin Tourism Development Authority met last Monday at Shoney’s for their monthly meeting, hearing the proposal of upcoming event organizers and a member of the community interested in joining TDA ranks, contending eligibility as a member.
Rob Gasbarro and Cory McCall, proprietors of the downtown Franklin outfitters store Outdoor 76, presented to the board their plans of holding the first annual Outdoor Athlon event.
Last month, members of Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority denied a grant request amounting to $4,000 to help pay for event expenditures. TDA members concluded to allow the organizers to utilize their billboard advertising opportunities. The county's Tourism Development Commission did however grant Gasbarro and McCall $4,000 for expenditures at its July meeting.
But this time around, Gasbarro and McCall, who boasted of putting in more than 500 hours of planning the Athlon, returned to the board to request $8,000. Gasbarro explained that since their last encounter, the event has ballooned, gathering more sponsorships and volunteers to help with the October public outing.
The new Athlon proposal
Live music, Atlanta radio personalities, flash mobs and corporate sponsorships are all on the table now for the event, Gasbarro explained. All in effort to promote the Franklin area.
“We have quite a few more changes in the event that are in the interest of the TDA,” said Gasbarro to TDA members. “There's also been a lot more progression in the event that we wanted to run by you guys that will change your ideas of the scope of this whole thing... So far this could be one of the biggest events that Franklin has ever seen.”
Gasbarro added that TDA was not essential. “Our partnership with you guys is not contingent upon you. We want to work with you guys in whatever capacity that you're willing to work with us. It's always been that way.”
Originally the event was slated to be held on October 8, but was soon stretched to be held on the following day as well, after receiving feedback from potential sponsors.
Reserved to be held at Cullasaja Park, just off of Fox Ridge Road in Franklin, the event promises to showcase outdoor activities and promote local entertainment. An outdoor triathlon, climbing wall, disc golf and ultimate Frisbee tournaments, outdoor sport clinics, hiking and kayaking demonstrations are among the many proposed features at the event, which will resemble Asheville’s Mountain Sports Festival.
“No other town in the southeast can do this as well as we can,” said Gasbarro. “Asheville does a great job of capturing their market, but the truth is the people who live in Asheville don't play in Asheville – they come here – and we've never done anything to capture that market... This is our stab to try to change that.”
Gasbarro explained that the event has already secured volunteer commitments from Franklin Young Professionals, Boy Scouts of America, the Nantahala Hiking Club and other local organizations.
So far, the Athlon has also attained partnerships with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Sylvan Sport, Patagonia Footwear and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
If the sponsorships were not enough to embolden organizer confidence in the event, booking national recording artist Zach Deputy did. Deputy, who describes his music as "island- infused, drum 'n' bass, Gospel ninja soul”, has played at renowned music festivals such as Bonnaroo in 2009 and last year at Mountain Jam. “He'll be the headline act,” said Gasbarro.
Town Manager Sam Greenwood asked Gasbarro and McCall whether they had an adjusted budget for the event, to which McCall indicated that they hadn’t, however the total budget was $22,800.
“In applying for the new amount of money you have for your new operating summary, we can't speak for the TDC, but they’re bound pretty much by the same regulations as the TDA is,” said Greenwood. “[Grant funds] can only go for advertising.”
“We have an overabundant amount of money that's needed for advertising,” said Mc- Call.
Greenwood said that the event organizers need to adjust their budget and report what advertising funds after deducting the $4,000 obtained by the TDC– somewhere in the ballpark of $6,000 as indicated by McCall. He also recommended that the two find a non-profit sponsor for the event in the future, to render the TDA more responsive in allocating funds.
Gooder and Poindexter seek TDA seats
Macon County News editor Colin Gooder came before the board seeking to fill one of the two empty seats on the TDA. Last March, he had sent the Town of Franklin a letter of interest in joining the board.
The TDA has been searching throughout the year to fill the seats. Former member Pam Foreshee resigned last June due to conflicting schedules.
Each opening, according to Town Planner and non-voting TDA member Michael Grubermann, must be filled by locals affiliated with businesses that are tourist related within the Town of Franklin. TDA appointments, he asserted, were made upon board recommendations to Aldermen.
“Our business is a direct reflection of the local tourist economy and we help to promote tourism each year throughout the seasons,” said Gooder. “We also provide news coverage at the same time.”
But having a member of the local media could have a potential for conflict of interest, explained Greenwood.
“The board asked Rachel [Hoskins] (Publisher of The Franklin Press) if she would serve on the board, again because of the same recognition of the value of the print media,” said Greenwood. “Rachel considered it and then had to turn down being considered because she raised the issue of there being too much of a conflict with their job as supervising a news operation and not the commercial aspect.”
Gooder maintained that with his business being a sub-regional and privately-owned publication, that such a conflict of interest was a non-issue for his eligibility as a TDA member.
“I'm trying to think of scenarios where there would be a conflict and I just can't come up with anything,” said Gooder. “But if you guys have anything in mind, I am trying to figure out where there would be a conflict.”
Greenwood said that the TDA could not find any scenarios in the case of Hoskins, thus asking her to be considered an Aldermen recommendation.
“Anything that could be a conflict, I would just recuse myself from any input in that discussion, and as far as the news coverage goes,” said Gooder, adding that the Macon County News publication serves two main purposes; comprehensive news coverage and increasing efforts to promote the area’s businesses. “I’ve been helping for years now in your efforts to promote this area for tourism. So in a way, there is no conflict. I’ve already been doing that.”
Gooder asserted that while the TDA advertises local events to markets outside of Western North Carolina (such as Atlanta or Greenville), Franklin could also benefit from promoting itself in the 30 to 45 minute radius around Macon County (such as Swain, Jackson and Haywood counties). “All I am saying is it might help to draw from everywhere– from both places and not just focus on the outside, especially if there's the resources that you have,” said Gooder.
“You're working for the hotel industry, of course you're going to worry about filling in the rooms, but there's money to be made in more than just the rooms also.”
Aside from Gooder, Macon County Historical Society member Bob Poindexter submitted a letter of interest in joining the TDA earlier this month. The board took no action on either individual, however TDA member Bev Mason suggested that every member come up with one candidate for the empty seats to consider along with Gooder and Poindexter by the September meeting.
The next TDA meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12 at the Boiler Room restaurant.