The Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau has experienced some turbulence over the past year but officials say it’s on track for a more organized and productive 2009.
Representatives from the city of Richmond Hill and CVB met recently to discuss the current state and the immediate future of the organization.
This year, the group lost both their director and chairman. In addition, the partnership between the CVB and the Richmond Hill Historical Society dissolved. This left the CVB with no hierarchy and no home base, since they were set up inside the Historical Society Museum on Hwy. 144.
Larry Barker, who has served the group for five years, recently vacated the chairman spot. He said he knew 2009 would be a difficult year and thought the time had come "for new blood and new ideas." A few months prior, Christy Hyer vacated the director position. She said she did so in order to follow her dream of publishing a magazine – which took her out of state.
As the new year approaches, things are looking up for the CVB. Board member and local attorney Amy Harris stepped up to fill the chairman spot while Hyer’s spot is being filled by interim director Chris Sheppard. The group is also looking forward to having permanent office space inside the forthcoming City Center.
Before the groups parted ways, Harris said the CVB put a lot of money into the Historical Society Museum as part of a now-defunct plan to make it a welcome center. She said she doesn’t feel bad about investing in the museum "because I think it’s one of the most important buildings we have here. I just hate that the relationship didn’t work out."
Harris said communication between the two groups played a part in the split. She said only a few members were present to represent each group during joint meetings, and the decisions made failed to represent the boards as a whole, which created friction.
Historical Society President Brad Brookshire said the collaboration was supposed to be a step toward the CVB staffing the museum with quality people and making it a viable welcome center, but that did not come to pass.
"We certainly appreciate the money spent on upgrading the building, and there’s no bad blood here," Brookshire said. "The split was made to get our board and our volunteers back involved in the museum."
"I think the CVB has come a long way in the last few months," City Manager Mike Melton said. "We kind of went through a rough patch when we lost Christy, but Chris has done a great job. In six to eight months, as soon as the City Center gets rolling, I think the CVB is going to be vitally important to the center and to the city."
The CVB, which is funded by hotel-motel taxes, is banking on the City Center in helping them with their duty, which is to promote tourism in Richmond Hill. The center is expected to make Richmond Hill a target area for business and individual events.
"We talk about Richmond Hill and what we have here, and it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing that would bring someone here," CVB Board member Keith Page said. "Hopefully, with the City Center, that all will change."
Another planned ingredient to increase tourism is the enhancement of the group’s website, www.richmondhillvisit.com. Harris said the site is a work in progress but is almost complete.
"We had a website before, but it wasn’t very good," she said. "It also wasn’t something that a staff person could update on her own. That’s really what we’re trying to do now – have it where Chris can go on and keep updating what’s going on in Richmond Hill now. With so many people searching for destinations on the internet, that’s our goal – to make sure that our website is attractive and attracting people to Richmond Hill."
The site features information about upcoming events and will soon have links to other local organizations. The group also plans to gear the site in the direction of their motto "Just south of Savannah, but a world away," with content stressing the fact that Richmond Hill is a short drive from both Savannah and the Golden Isles.
Long term goals for the CVB include potential placement of historical markers throughout the city and a bus tour of historic Richmond Hill. Melton said the potential exists, which hinges on the outcome of legislation sessions, for the hotel/motel tax to increase. That could result in an additional $40,000 of revenue for the CVB as well as $40,000 for the city to enhance the City Center.