By Jean Cole
Athens’ outgoing tourism president says tourism has grown steadily during her 7 1/2-year tenure, and there is more on the way.
But, with the candor of an exiting employee, she told City Council members Monday the city needs more hotel space as well as a civic center with theater and arena to lure and retain concerts, conferences and other events.
Jeanette Dunnavant Jones, president of the Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association, who will retire Aug. 31, gave City Council members an overview of her time at the helm during a work session Monday.
She said the $1-a-night bed fee has nearly doubled the amount of lodging tax the city of Athens is collecting compared to 2006.
That year, Jones said, the city’s lodging tax was generating about $350,000 a year.
“As our local tourism industry has grown, lodging tax has increased to approximately $650,000 this year,” she said.
(Lodging tax is a tax paid on overnight stays at hotels and motels. Lodging operators collect it from overnight guests and remit it to the city.)
“It is evident that our tourism traffic is growing by the new hotels being built at Exit 351 (of Interstate 65),” Jones said. “Since 2006, the Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn have been built. That is a sign of progress. Hotel owners only build where they know the additional beds are needed.”
Downtown hotel needed
Jones said she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a developer to build a hotel where the QuadPlex is located off Hobbs Street. (The QuadPlex was once an Athens State University dormitory.)
“When the QuadPlex was recently to be auctioned,” Jones said. “I called Bob Kumar (managing partner at Omega Hotel Group) and asked him to purchase that land and build a nice downtown hotel. He said his investors didn’t believe we had enough visitors downtown to show a profit on their investment. I explained the tourism board’s vision to him and how our sports program and downtown events will bring more travelers off Interstate 65 at Exit 354. But, he wouldn’t change his mind.”
Trinity School project
Jones believes the plan to turn the former Fort Henderson and the former all-black Trinity High School site into a tourist attraction will bring more visitors to Athens each year.
“When the Trinity School project is completed — and it will be completed — it will bring more and more tourists each year,” Jones said. “We will be distributing the new African-American Heritage Trail brochure this week, and we believe this brochure will bring thousands annually as visitors search for their ancestors and research family history.”