Lawson: Marketing plan needed to ‘pull folk off the interstate’

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

Better marketing of Alexandria to visitors as a way to increase sales tax revenues dominated Tuesday’s City Council committee sessions.

Council member Myron Lawson asked this item be on the agendas of the Community Development Committee chaired by Council member Ed Larvadain and of the Public Works/Zoning Committee that Lawson chairs, which met May 4.

Lawson said he’d like to see collaboration between the city and the Greater Alexandria Economic Development District (GAEDA) to attract visitors from the thousands of cars that pass through the city on Interstate 49.

While the city cannot market a specific business, it can market the area itself using billboards and the governmental public access TV channel “to help curve this challenging budget” through enhanced sale tax revenues, Lawson said.

“Pull folks off the interstate,” Lawson said.

City Council President Roosevelt Johnson said he’d like to see the city define itself as other cities in an effort to better market what it has to offer, citing as an example the way the city of New Orleans identifies itself using its Jazz Festival.
Johnson also cited as assets to tout the city’s zoo and museum of art.

Lawson said Quein’ on the Red was pushed as an identifier for Alexandria similar to the city of Natchitoches as the City of Lights.

“A good marketing plan will not cost you anything,” Lawson said, noting the efforts of Lisa Harris as the city’s Director of Community Services.

Larvadain agreed, saying Harris has succeeded in getting word out and attracting visitors from Mississippi and other areas for the Quein’ on the Red barbecue festival.

Larvadain added that visitors also need to be attracted to the MacArthur Drive area to shop at the Mall and stay at hotels while here. “We all have to get on the same accord and market our city aggressively,” Larvadain said.

Council member Everett Hobbs asked that a report be presented at the May 18 meeting to update the Council about a study under way on city directional signs, which Mayor Jacques Roy said would be arranged.

In addition to GAEDA, both Lawson and Larvadain said they’d also like to hear about marketing efforts under way by the Chamber of Commerce and Business League.

In further marketing-related discussion, the mayor also outlined efforts in the marketing of the Alexandria Riverfront Center.
The city administration’s published response to the Council states in part that the city will assist the Hospitality Initiative Partnership (HIP) in executing a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Alexandria-Pineville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and GAEDA to provide that all of the hotel occupancy tax received from the downtown hotels shall be used in marketing and promotion as follows:

— Just over 50 percent of such hotel occupancy tax shall be used to promote, market and advertise the downtown hotels, Convention Center and Riverfront Center; and
— Just under 50 percent of such hotel occupancy tax shall be used to promote, market and advertise all other Alexandria hotels and motels.

“We think it’s good best-practice thinking, it was creative and it was part of what allowed us to bring all the other players to the table and have them share in this process and I think it will be of benefit to the city,” Mayor Roy said.

Roy said that in the near future a program called “Smart Alex” will be launched that is about “making smart decisions in our city, building local capacity with local businesses.”

Also answering questions, Alexandria Riverfront Center manager Mark Jones touted upcoming Riverfront Center events such as the Louisiana Rural Water Association meeting in July and the Baptist Convention in November.

“Those are the two big conventions we have right now on the horizon,” Jones said. “We want to do what we can to keep the facility filled.”

Lawson expressed concern about the center being rented mainly by local entities.

Jones cited the various fees for rental of the Riverfront Center in response to questioning by Council member Jonathan Goins.

In other business, Utilities Director Michael Marcotte answered questions by Hobbs about final adoption of an ordinance authorizing the mayor to execute a gas supply, transportation, storage and load management agreement with Louisiana Municipal Gas Authority (LMGA).
Marcotte said LMGA was the best alternative for the city to select. “The fees associated with this contract are about 50 percent lower than they were in the prior contract,” Marcotte said.

Larvadain asked if citizens would see their gas rates also reduced.

“Mr. Larvadain, this contract allows us to buy a market-based product. Right now, the market is one-third what it was 18 months ago,” Marcotte said.
“The fees associated with the contract are 50 percent less than they used to be,” Marcotte repeated but added that “none of us can predict what the market’s going to be.” Marcotte later added that “the market’s in our favor.”

Lawson said he’s concerned with the trend more than the cost of LMGA and sought to ensure it was the best choice.

Marcotte said that “LMGA offered us the opportunity to buy just a portion of our gas at about 10 cents below market. Everyone else was market (or) market-plus.”
“We didn’t look at trends, we looked at deliverable services,” Marcotte said, also noting LMGA is based in-state rather than somewhere like Wisconsin and in the end it was the best way to go, at a three-year contract with two one-year options.

The ordinance was adopted on motion by Council member Chuck Fowler, seconded by Council member Harry Silver.

At the next Council meeting set for May 18, the Council intends to hear a report from their newly created Budget Review Committee concerning sales tax revenues with an eye toward later restoring, if possible, cuts made in the budget.

Also, Johnson asked for a report on attorney fees as well as the city’s wellness program for its employees.

Lawson asked for an update on the International Association of Chiefs of Police report about improving police functions as well as a report on the status of selecting a new Alexandria police chief to replace Daren Coutee, who retired.

One Response

  1. Wow it’s 2010 and Lawson just realizes what the city
    needs.Where were you in 2000. If the city was handled then properly we would’nt be in this mess now..

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