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Wednesday, 04 March 2015 15:54

Haywood Chamber, Tourism Authority and Downtown Waynesville Association talk about moving in together

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fr townhallWaynesville’s old town hall on Main Street could be converted into a garrison for tourism, business and economic development agencies — a move that would save each of the entities money and promote teamwork.

Three agencies with partly overlapping missions inhabit three separate offices currently, all within three blocks of each other in downtown Waynesville.

Collecting the various entities under one roof has been broached in the past, but tabled. Now, the idea has been revived, spurred by the offer of free rent in Waynesville’s old town hall, which is largely empty of town offices.

“We realize more and more how much more efficient we can be when we all work together,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. “The wheel is getting rounder.”

The plan would involve the Haywood Chamber and Economic Development Commission, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority and the Downtown Waynesville Association. 

Convening the masterminds of tourism and business under one roof will allow for cross-pollination of ideas and initiatives. Creative bantering can come more easily around a water cooler than over email. And logistically, collaborating on ad campaigns or coordinating festival weekends will be that much easier.

“We all work together anyway, but it would create some synergy amongst the organizations,” said Haywood County Tourism Director Lynn Collins.

“We would all be in the know a little bit better,” Hipps added.

The chamber and tourism authority could also partner to operate a single visitor center, instead of each running their own as they do now. 

“It would be sharing, sharing, sharing,” Hipps said.

As for the town, it has more space than it needs at the moment, said Town Manager Marcy Onieal. Old town hall was once packed with more than 20 employees, but only four occupy it now.

Waynesville built a new town hall across the street from the old one a few years ago. It also remodeled the old Hazelwood town hall, which it inherited when Hazelwood folded and merged with Waynesville.

That’s led to a glut of town office and meeting space. With a little juggling, the four lone employees who are still left in the original town hall could be absorbed into the new town hall or old Hazelwood town hall, Onieal said.

Waynesville would offer the entities a long-term lease, but wouldn’t give up old town hall forever, Onieal said.

In the meantime, the building would remain a focal point in the civic arena.

Over the past year, the town aldermen have discussed doing more to support overall economic development. Offering rent-free space would be a substantial contribution to the cause, without having to make a monetary outlay.

“This is a way the town can contribute more to economic development and offer a cost savings to the agencies,” Onieal said.

Even though the town would offer free rent, it would come out ahead as well by divesting itself of utility costs for the old town hall.

 

A new era

Moving in together is not to be mistaken as a merger. The tourism and business agencies would remain independent from one another, with their own director, own board and own budget — and their own specific focus.

It’s not the first time the chamber and tourism agency have considered moving in together. But discussions fell apart in the past, perhaps because it sounded too much like a merger instead of merely roommates.

“Before it was talked about bringing everybody under one umbrella,” Collins said. “I think the difference is now we are talking about collocating, but not getting married.”

Meanwhile, turf battles have simply subsided over time.

And perhaps most of all, the prospect of free rent — in a grand building at a premium downtown location no less — is a pot-sweetener just too good to pass up.

“Saving that much money, we would be foolish not to look at it,” Hipps said. “There is a lot of opportunity there.”

There’s also savings in overhead: shared internet and phone service, shared electric and heating bills, shared cleaning service, shared photocopier costs, and so on.

“We want to maximize limited resources instead of carving up that pie into smaller and smaller pieces,” Onieal said. 

Hipps said at first blush, it seems the chamber could save more than $20,000 a year that could instead be put toward programs and projects.

Meanwhile, the timing is ideal for the Haywood tourism authority, which was already in search mode for a new office site. It decided last year it couldn’t justify the high-dollar rent of its Main Street storefront and formed a committee to search out new locations.

The tourism authority’s Main Street office doubled as a visitor center, but the tourism board planned to find a smaller, cheaper office just for staff and get out of the visitor center business.

If the town hall deals works out, the tourism authority could stay in the visitor center game.

The large central lobby in the old town hall would serve as a visitor center, operated jointly with the chamber — which has long-standing visitor center of its own predating the one run by the tourism authority.

Being in the same building would also benefit the public, with what Collins called “one-stop shopping.”

The lines are often blurred between tourists, people moving to the area and entrepreneurs — niches served in tandem by the various agencies.

“They would just have to walk across the hallway instead of across town,” Onieal said.

Buffy Phillips, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, was neutral to the idea.

“We all function better working together, but we do that already. We do it anyway,” she said.

Phillips said free rent from the town would obviously be a great deal for the other entities.

But the Downtown Waynesville Association already gets free rent from the town. Phillips said she likes her current office across the street in the new town hall.

However, Phillips said DWA will move into the old town hall is that’s where the town tells them to go.

“We pretty much will be wherever they want us to be,” Phillips said.

The Haywood County Economic Development Commission would also move into town hall if the plan goes through. The economic development commission was recently brought under the auspice of the chamber. So wherever the chamber goes, the economic development commission goes too. 

Based on the positive feedback during informal talks, Onieal said the town’s next step is to draft a written plan and proposal for the agencies to look at.

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