Celebration not bringing people here for rooms

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County's Economic and Community Development-Tourism Committee trimmed more than a third of its advertising budget last week.

The ECD-Tourism Committee receives and spends money raised by the room rent tax charged at hotels, motels and inns. The committee was created to decide what spending would improve the economy here, be that from tourism or business development.

Mike Wiles, executive director of the countywide Joint Economic and Community Development Board, asked the ECD-Tourism Committee if it wanted to renew an advertisement in the Voice magazine published by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association. It's headquartered on North Ellington Parkway.

"It's a pretty good magazine," Wiles told the committee.

Millie Miller, proprietor of the Celebration Inn on Nashville Highway, is a member of the ECD-Tourism Committee.

The magazine, she said, "is geared to the Celebration," the annual show in Shelbyville where nearly 10 days of horse shows lead up to the Labor Day weekend when a national grand champion horse is named best of the Tennessee Walking Horses of the year.

Marshall County Chamber of Commerce President Eric Michael asked Miller if she thought the advertisement in last year's edition of the breeders' association magazine did any good.

"Nobody is coming to Lewisburg for the Celebration," Miller replied. "They're all going to Murfreesboro."

Several years ago the state road between Shelbyville and Murfreesboro was widened to a four-lane highway. That significantly reduced driving times between the cities. Furthermore, Murfreesboro's population has grown and dwarfed that of Shelbyville, which is about twice the size of Lewisburg.

"There's more to do in Murfreesboro," Miller continued. "It's easier to get there from Shelbyville," compared to traveling on a two-lane road to Lewisburg.

And now, attendance is down at horse shows because of a negative impression arising from the conviction of disgraced horse trainer Jackie McConnell, she said.

McConnell, 60, along with Jeff Dockery, 56; John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29, have been in U.S. District Court at Chattanooga facing charges related to animal cruelty. McConnell's been convicted of conspiracy to sore horses and he appears in an undercover video showing how it's done.

"When I bought the motel," Miller told the county committee, "I had a waiting list of 10 people before the show."

Now, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville does not benefit her business.

Michael moved to deny the request for $585 for more advertising in the Voice magazine.

The committee had $1,500 budgeted for advertising.

County Commissioner Mickey King seconded the motion. The panel led by Commissioner Seth Warf voted unanimously for Michael's motion.

"If we're not getting our money's worth..." King said with his voice trailing off to make the point without actually saying it.

Miller: "It's not worth $585."

Michael noted a broader focus for the committee

"This is business-specific," he said of the ad supporting the horse industry in hopes of attracting commerce here. "There are a lot of businesses in town.

"That's not to dismiss Millie's business," he said. "But... if four different motels can't split up $585, then, well..."