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February 3, 1995     Cape Gazette
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February 3, 1995

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I0 - CAPB Friday, February 3 - February 9, 1995 Rehoboth, SCC&TC resolve Convention Hall funding dispute By Trish Vernon Ruffled feathers were smoothed Friday, Jan. 27 following the Sus- sex County Convention and Tourism Commission' s (SCC&TC) 4-2 vote to allot the City of Rehoboth Beach $1,700 to advertise Convention Hall. The move to rehear the applica- tion, which was rejected earlier that month due to the city's lack of "an overall marketing plan," came after Rehoboth City Manager Greg Ferrese "cried foul," when he learned the request was denied. One of the primary reasons for Ferrese's ire was the fact that he had asked to make a presentation to the commission before a vote was taken. However, he wasn't notified of when the meeting was to be held, although it has never been the SCC&TC's practice to personally inform anyone, as they meet the same time and place on the last Friday of each month. Ferrese was also upset because, while the application had been submitted in May, it wasn't brought to a vote until January. His other major gripe was that the city so far has spent $250,000 to renovate the hall, while much of the SCC&TC's funding is de- rived from the lodging tax on Re- hoboth area motels. He felt that this .$1,700 seemed a small re- quest in light of that fact. Due to the public criticism lodged from both sides, there was an edge of pre-game excitement in the air as Ferrese arrived at the Jan. 27 meeting armed with a lengthy presentation on Conven- tion Hall. Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper, Chuck Snyder, who man- ages the hall, and Rehoboth busi- ness people John Kleitz, Melissa Clink and Patty Derrick joined in to provide support for the case. Before giving Ferrese the floor, Gigi Windiey, director of tourism for Delaware, cautioned "I hope in these discussions today we are looking collectively toward the same goal - helping Convention Hall remain economically healthy or even more healthy. We need to keep in mind that the whole suc- cess depends upon several things working together: product, organi- zation, pricing, promotion, ser- vice." SCC&TC Chairman Kay Wheatley, who also serves as fwst vice president of the Rehoboth- Dewey Chamber of Commerce, advised fellow "re- flect on what we said [at the last meeting] and make sure there are no inconsistencies in our vote and listen to the city's presentation be- fore deciding," as the city's re- quest to state its case before the previous vote was the reason they decided to re-hear it. Ferrese gave a slide show of the renovated hall and photos he planned to use in the ad for the 1995 Northeast Rapid Response Kit, which is used by meeting and convention planners in the mid- Atlantic re- gion if the SCC&TC provides the $1,700. With the hall booked solid- ly on week- ends from i, April through October, "We FERRESE want to hit corporate events from November to April," he explained. He stressed that the city subsi- dizes convention hail, and the use of the hall spins off in positive dollars to motels, restaurants and retail stores in the Rehoboth area. "It's our goal to attract these off- season retreats and conventions so that our businesses can stay open longer in the winter and spring," he said, reminding them that most convention centers operate at a substantial loss. (With $39,000 in anticipated revenue from the hall in 1995, the city expects to expend $75,000 to operate it and another $15,775 in capital improvements.) As to marketing and servicing the hall, Ferrese told them that Re- hoboth is too small to afford a full-time hall staff, "but we can provide service." He also assured them that he would be the direct contact in the future for those wishing information on booking the facility. (While the ad would include his office's phone num- ber, the chamber would also field calls, as its 800 number would al- so appear on the ad.) As the SCC&TC previously turned down the request due to the lack of a marketing plan, he pre- sented an outlined plan which in- cluded various advertising and promotion now used such as brochures, etc. enclosed in the packet which all include informa- tion on the hall. He included as his marketing resources the Delaware Development Office, SCC&TC, the chamber marketing director and the downtown busi- ness association, adding that the city believes it should hire a mar- keting director for the hall when funds become available. Cooper then told the commis- sion that the hail, since it was built in 1964, "was never well-utilized. When I was a commissioner, I thought it was a loser and not in favor of putting a lot in it, but I've woken up. It increases revenue for businesses in the off-season and there's been a deterioration in survival for the types of business- es we want in Rehoboth. More off-season conventions could bring these businesses back." He went on to note that he sees support of the hall as a "coopera- tive effort," with the city provid- ing multi-faceted services. "With a budget of less than $6 million there's a lo t of competition for our resources and we've made a good faith effort to improve the hall. I want a commitment from some- where else before we put more taxpayer money into the hall," Cooper continued, admitting that they still need to improve the abil- ity to put together packages that include catering, etc. One voting SCC&TC member, Julie Sadowski, posed the ques- tion "I can't understand when all the money was put into the hall why no money was allocated for a marketing plan. You're putting the cart be- fore the horse." Ferrese re-. sponded, us- ing the "chicken and the egg ............... adage, that the applica- tion was sub- mitted short- WHEATLEY ly after the renovated hall reopened, so this $1,700 request is essentially the first step in getting a marketing plan up and running. (Rehoboth has submitted a second funding request to update and improve its promotion package and market- ing, with the city paying half Of the cost.) A discussion of the difference between "marketing" and "sell- ing" the hail ensued, with Wind- ley explaining that a marketing di- rector promotes the area and facil- ity, with which the chamber and business association assist. A sales director, on the other hand, is expected to sell the use of the hall and service the client. Ferrese told her he could be considered the sales director. With dissatisfaction heard in the past concerning phone calls not returned and other problems by those wishing to rent the hall, SCC&TC member Ellen Rice broached the subject. Ferrese stressed that he would field all in- quiries calling on the marketing skills of the business groups to help, but some members were skeptical he would have time to devote to such a task considering all of his other duties. Wheatley explained that Re- boboth also has a convention hall committee which is assessing the situation and will help with the en- deavor of shoring up any weak links. She went on to clarify any misunderstanding of the cham- ber's role in marketing the hall, noting that the chamber's SCC&TC funding does not pay the salary and-that all SCC&TC funds go toward efforts to attract visitors from outside of the area. The chamber has spent money or donated space on the promotion and renovation of the hall. If the SCC&TC pays for the ad this year, Ferrese said, if it's suc- cessful, perhaps next year the city will pay the entire freight or ask businesses that benefited to help pay for it. This, along with Ferrese's de- pendence on the chamber and oth- ers for marketing, caused Trenny Elliott of the Lewes chamber to say "it looks like you are passing the buck." This caused Windley to reiterate the need for a sales person. "Each entity needs to be involved. But if a salesperson is doing the job, it makes this hall much more profitable - it takes management and focus and that's the missing piece." Windley went on to say that all in all, she be- lieves the money would be spent in a worthwhile matter if the ad were placed in that publication. Wheatley addressed the board again, asking for a vote and noting they had "ended up concentrating on the small stuff rather than the big issue. There were mistakes on everyone's part and I'm not say- ing you should change your mind, but just look at the additional in- formation." With that, the commission voted 4-2 (Sadowski and Elliott voted no) to override its previous motion and grant the funding request with certain stipulations: that the city report back in six months on the status of the hall and its operation, as well as wanting input on the content of the advertisement. Alternative education, By Kerry Kester The Calm Henlopon Board of Education has asked Superinten- dent Suellen Skeen to prepare pro- posals for different models of al- ternative school programs for con- sideration as a referendum issue. Skeen said she will have a propos- al for the board to vote on at its Feb. 16 meeting. During its workshop meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19, the board also discussed a prevention model for middle and elementary schools that would include hiring behavior managers and counselors. During the Jan. 26 meeting, Skeen pro- vided a cost breakdown for board members to consider for alterna- tive and prevention programs. The cost of hiring an elementary counselor at each school would be $171,000, quiring a 3.42 cents campus monitors, tax increase per $100 of assessed property value. "The general pub- lic doesn't understand the bag- gage these kids are coming through the door with," said Butch Archer, board member, at the Jan. 19 meeting. He said he sees a strong need for the district to staff elementary schools with more counselors who could focus more on preventing problems that left unchecked, would later develop into serious conflicts. Also included in Skeen's break- down was hiring a behavior man- ager at Lewes and Milton Middle Schools as well as one at Re- hoboth Elementary School, at a cost of $135,000 - a 2.7 cents tax increase. Hiring a discipline dean at the high school would cost the district $33,000, a .66 cent tax in- case. high school addition top It will cost the district $319,000 to implement a minimum alterna- tive program; that's a 6.38 cents tax hike. That figure does not re- flect costs of transportation and assumes the program will be housed at Cape Henlopen High School. At the request of board member Dave Baker, Skeen also listed the cost of purchasing a personal re- sponsibility curriculum. It would cost $16,000, a .32 cent increase. Finally, in response to board member Becky Millman's request that Skeen investigate the cost of providing paraprofessionals in all core subject classes at the high school, Skeen determined that it would require eight staff members at a cost of $160,000. That would result in a 3.2 cents increase. Superintendent Suellen Skeen Cape said an alternative education pro- gram should be designed for stu- dents with varied needs. Students who might benefit from alterna- tive education are those with chil- dren of their own, who have atten- dance problems, who are home- less, who have discipline prob- lems, or who are financially inde- pendent of their parents and living on their own. "This is not going to be a re- placement for Woodbridge," said Skeen. She said that at present the state is focusing more on remov- ing disruptive students from the general student population, such as providing an alternative setting such as Woodbridge. Unlike the Cape district, she said, it is not concentrating on prevention mod- els. Skeen said that in-house aite concerns native school could not be fi- nanced through the tuition tax., but taxpayers could see a reduction in that tax the following year if the program is successful. "One of the ways you would track the success of an alternative program is you look at drop out rates," she said. "This is more an intervention program," Skeen said. Board member Dave Baker asked the board to consider funding the al- ternative program with a gradual tax increase over two or three years. The board decided in December to ask the public, through a refer- endum, to roll its debt service ac- count from the high school into the general operating budget. That money is now being used to pay off Cape Henlopen High School, Continued on page 13