Cities Use State Grant To Bolster Tourism

March 7, 2012

The city of Homerville is getting a chance to let everyone know about its must-see attractions thanks to a $10,000 Tourism Product Development grant from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“The grant will be used for signage that will showcase our top tourism assets as well as focus on promoting our locally made, locally grown products,” said Homerville Better Downtown Manager Jenny Robbins. “We have one of the top-five largest private genealogical libraries in the US—the Huxford-Spear Genealogical Library in Homerville. We are also the gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp, we are the origin of the world famous Suwannee River and we are also the birthplace of author, actor and social activist Ossie Davis. Part of the funding will pay for a commemorative sign in recognition of Davis; we are working with his family to do that.”

Homerville is partnering with Clinch County to provide the balance of the funding for the $20,000 signage project.

“The signage project is part of a bigger puzzle designed to maximize tourism in our community,” Robins said. “That is why it was so wonderful that we could get the grant. We feel like there will be a lot of return on the investment.”

Homerville’s bigger puzzle includes a self-guided cell-phone tour, which will be promoted on the new signs, and smaller signs for buildings and store fronts that indicate locally made/locally grown products are sold at the location.

“Tourism is a very important industry to us,” Robbins said. “It allows us to showcase what is unique about our community while also generating revenue from sources outside our tax base. With the new way-finding signage, we hope more people will slow down when they come through here and experience something unique.”

The city of Ringgold received an $8,000 tourism grant and, like Homerville, will use the proceeds to implement a way-finding signage system.

“We want to direct people off the interstate into our historic downtown,” said Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright. “The signs will start at Highway 151, at I-75, exit 348.”

Wright hopes visitors will stay in the city awhile once they find downtown’s quaint shops, locally-owned restaurants and attractions like the rail-viewing platform that allows people to watch as trains roll though the city and listen to train engineers over the city’s scanners.

“Tourism is imperative to keeping our merchants and our sales tax viable,” Wright said. “Highway 41 or Old Dixie Highway comes right through our town and with heritage tourism a lot of people travel that route. We are the last stop before Tennessee.”

Ringgold suffered a devastating tornado in April 2011 and tourism efforts are helping the city get back on its feet.

“Before the tornado we had seven hotels, all of which were pretty much well over their breakeven point on occupancy,” Wright said. “Today, we have three hotels that are up and operating now and two that are being rebuilt. Tourists are often looking for what we have to offer, but a lot of times they don’t know how to get here. With the new signage, people will now we are only one mile off of Highway 151.”

Sylvester will use its $10,000 tourism grant to help renovate an already popular city attraction and add to a city park.

“We have an old locomotive train (Old Engine 100) that ran on the rails of the Georgia-Ashburn Sylvester-Camilla Railway from 1930 to 1948 and was donated to the city and moved to Jeffords Park in 1957,” explained Sylvester City Manager Deborah Bridges. “The train is right on the corner of Highway 82 and Main and is a city landmark. While there are a lot of people who visit because they like to look at old trains, we are going to make the locomotive even more attractive to visitors.”

The train renovation is part of a $62,000 project that also includes adding a dog park to the Jeffords Park and commissioning a mural in the park.

“The grant fits in with the city’s larger tourism efforts,” Bridges said. “We are also adding a new downtown Farmers’ Market, getting new restaurants and promoting our unique shops, festivals and the fact that the every jar of Peter Pan peanut butter is made right here in Sylvester. Tourism is very important to us because it draws visitors to our community, which helps with our economy.”

Moultrie is using its $10,000 grant to help stage a musical event.

“We partnered with the Moultrie Colquitt Art Center,” explained Downtown Manager Amy Johnson. “The art center will be holding the Dogwood Musical Festival during our Spring Fling Festival in April and the music festival will raise money for the art center.”

Moultrie’s partnership with the art center was among the partnerships Georgia Department of Economic Development Deputy Commissioner for Tourism Kevin Langston lauded when announcing the grant recipients.

“Partnerships like this will produce projects that increase tourism opportunities and provide more awareness of the arts while creating jobs that sustain the economy,” he said.

Johnson noted that by drawing thousands of visitors to the city every year, the art center plays an essential role in the city’s tourism efforts.

“Tourism is big business in the state of Georgia and in Moultrie,” Johnson said. “Many people don’t realize that small communities like Moultrie have a lot of great assets and draw thousands of people to town. Every year, we draw more than 80,000 people to our downtown alone, and many of them stay in our hotels. Our hotel/motel tax helps support tourism efforts, so the more people who stay in our hotels, the more hotel/motel tax is generated and spent on tourism related activities, which draws even more people to town.”

According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, tourism in the state employs more than 391,000 Georgians and creates a total economic impact of more than $45 billion.

The Tourism Product Development grant program was designed to financially support tourism development activities at the local level that sustain and create jobs, and support Georgia’s creative economies with an emphasis on local artists and the nonprofit arts industry. For more information on the state tourism grants, visit http://georgia.org/GeorgiaIndustries/Tourism/Programs/Pages/Grants.aspx.