The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 7, 2012

A look forward: How events are luring visitors to Limestone

By Lora Scripps

— It’s no secret Athens and Limestone County are becoming destination spots for tourists and travelers, and officials continue to see the benefits on the bottom line.

From the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention and Storytelling Festival to the Limestone County Sheriff’s Rodeo, Art on the Square, Cars on the Square and more, local events continue to lead visitors and additional revenue into the region.

When festivals and events bring visitors to the area, they not only fill up hotel rooms, but they also eat, shop and buy gasoline, in turn helping the city’s sales tax revenues.

In October, more than 800 student council delegates from 10 states made their way to Athens to take part in the Southern Association of Student Councils’ Leadership Rocks conference. Athens High School hosted the four-day event , which filled area hotel rooms.

The Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention and Storytelling Festival were also held in October bringing thousands of people to Athens. 

In October alone, the $1 per hotel room fee charged by the city generated $6,972, according to City Clerk John Hamilton and Finance Director Annette Barnes. Since the city started collecting the $1 per hotel room fee in February 2011, it has generated a total of $105,653.

Sales tax in October 2011 was more than $50,000 higher than that collected a year earlier. The October total, which is split 50-50 with the city school system, was $711,363 in 2011 and $653,757 in 2010, according to officials.

Big events that bring revenue to the city include the annual Limestone Sheriff’s Rodeo as well as training held by city departments for other entities, such as Athens Fire and Rescues’ workshop on how to deal with victims who have autism and training by the Gas Department at Leak City, which included approximately 400 trainees last year.

Others include car shows such as the weekly Cruise-ins held every first Saturday from April to October and Cars on the Square, as well as the Art on the Square festival, sport tournaments, workshops at Athens State University and more.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said he believes its because citizens are talking more about the community. “Members of the community are setting the stage that it’s not about me — it’s we,” he said. “In my opinion, it is because everybody is working together.”

More recently, 350 people from five states visited Athens for the Leader in Me Symposium at Athens State University. The local symposium was the first to sell out in the nation. More than 200 people were on a waiting list for the event.

“This is an exciting event and we appreciated Athens State for hosting it and bringing people to our city,” Marks said.

Marks said the revenue streams such as that generated by the symposium allow the city to work on infrastructure needs such as paving as well as Athens’ drive to become a green city. He added officials wants to continue to look at everything they can to move the city forward.

“For the first time in a long time, people are talking about Athens,” Marks said.