Urbana council critiques tourism proposal

URBANA -- City council members think a plan to internalize the city's marketing and tourism promotion efforts needs more work.

Administrators presented a plan to the council on Monday night that would make the marketing of Urbana's events and destinations a job for city employees rather than contracting the duties out to the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I just feel like the concept is kind of dumbed down for what my vision would be," said Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5.

Under administrators' plan, the city would make a full-time position out of what is now a part-time public arts coordinator. They would also create a new position, a community marketing associate, as a part-time job. The staffing changes would cost the city an extra $37,320 annually.

That would be the alternative to a deal that has been in place for years with the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau. During the summer, Mayor Laurel Prussing vetoed $71,800 that would have gone to the bureau to handle tourism promotion.

Roberts worried about putting the duties in the hands of "low-level staff."

"I think the city needs some one person to be the marketing director for all of these duties, and it has to be someone with more experience than a graduate student," Roberts said of the new part-time position.

For Diane Marlin, D-Ward 7, it was a matter of money.

"I think it's really important that we look at various funds and the money we're spending now and how we're utilizing our staff before we go and hire new staff"," Marlin said.

She said the city already commits about $200,000 to the public arts program, $100,000 to the Urbana Business Association and $168,000 to the city's television station annually.

"If we need to reallocate this half-million dollars, then I think we should look at that instead of spending more money, creating this new position," Marlin said.

The council will continue to consider the proposal in coming weeks. Prussing said this is just the first step to the city taking control of its own marketing plan.

"We're saying this is how we'd like to start it," Prussing said.

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