The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday unanimously approved $450,000 worth of tourism and economic development contracts.
The city’s tourism agency, the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau, got a slight increase in city funding compared to last year. Its new one-year contract is worth up to $410,000, up from a maximum of about $404,000 last year.
The second contract, valued at $42,000, is with economic development consultant Ray Evans.
In a memo to City Council, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the ORCVB has been more responsive and focused this year.
“Occupancy has improved and events have received active attention and coordination this year,” he said.
Still, ORCVB President Katy Brown said it’s been a rough year in the tourism industry, and Watson said revenues have increased slightly but not significantly.
Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland questioned why the contract value was increased when it didnâ€™t clearly identify performance measurements.
Council voted 6-1 against a motion by Garcia Garland to hold the ORCVB funding at last year’s level before members unanimously approved the contract.
Under the contract, which took effect July 1, the ORCVB has some new goals, including developing a regional marketing program and three-year business plan to enhance the Secret City Festival while “supporting the assistance and development of hotel infrastructure and local conference capacity.”
The ORCVB receives the majority of the money collected from a 5 percent hotel and motel tax.
Under his contract, Evans is expected to help with projects including improvements at Jackson Square, the potential sale of the Oak Ridge Mall, and the Woodland Town Center commercial development on South Illinois Avenue.
“He’s been the point of contact so we don’t disrupt the work of the city,” Watson said.
Evans is a former chief executive officer for Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, and he knows how to make deals happen, Watson said.
“The private sector does Â not wait for the city manager or the city attorney to call back,” Watson said. “This has helped us immensely.”
Several City Council members questioned the difference between the services offered by Watson and other economic development agencies such as the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commere.
Parker Hardy, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce president, said the chamber supported the contract with Evans. He said the chamber doesn’t have the authority or expertise to help clients with some issues such as sewer lines.
“We are hunters, and he is the skinner,” Hardy said of Evans. “You have to have both of those to ultimately be successful.”
Several officials said it was good to have a single point of contact within the city to aid potential customers.
“We need a more clear voice coming from the city,â€ Council member Chuck Hope said. “That’s one of the problems. I applaud the act of having a point person to do that.”
Evans has been helping the city since February, and Hardy said that’s helped the Chamber “turn prospects into customers and to turn customers into projects.”
A few residents and Knoxville developer Walter Wise commented on the hiring of Evans. Resident Jerry Marrow said Council members are allies of Evans, and his hiring had the “appearance of cronyism.”
But resident Joe Lee said he supported the contract, and Wise said Evans has helped immensely with projects.
“I think Mr. Evans is the missing link out here, and it would be a travesty not to keep him on,” Wise said.