Proposed mobile visitors center for Farragut debated

Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen debated the feasibility of a mobile visitors center, as it discussed its proposed Tourism fund, during a March 24 budget workshop.

“Back about five or six years ago, when the Campbell Station Inn was being stabilized … we had talked about putting a welcome center in the house itself … or another building,” Alderman Ron Pinchok said. “It’s going to be a while before any welcome center is built there, and Karen Tindal, Tourism coordinator, came up with an idea a year ago that maybe we have a mobile visitor center.

“The Tourism Committee met recently … one of the opportunities was trying to go ahead and move forward with a mobile welcome center, something that could be taken to sporting events or to lawn chair concerts and getting the word out about what the Town is trying to do to promote tourism, restaurants, hotels and so forth,” he said.

After researching the matter, Pinchok added a 6-by-12-foot pool trailer could be purchased for about $5,000 to $6,000.

“I’m proposing we put $10,000 somewhere in here under expenditures for a mobile visitors center,” he said.

“Whether that happens in the next fiscal year or the following fiscal year, I think if we have something made, it might take six months to have it built.”

“We now have a little over a year that we’ve had our Tourism Hotel/Motel Tax in place,” Town administrator David Smoak said. He reminded the Board it delayed the tax until September 2020, as the pandemic was in its heightened state in the summer of 2020.

However, from 2021 to 2022, “things look to be coming back pretty well,” Smoak said. For the FY ’22 year, he estimated the Town expects to receive $610,000 from the tax.

“Being conservative, we’re projecting around $500,000 in the FY 2023 budget,” he added. “Next year, we also are moving our Tourism coordinator (from part time) to full time and having a seasonal part-time person to help with tourism.

“Overall, we’re looking at an ending fund balance of $677,339. Again, everything stays in the Tourism fund.”

Alderman Scott Meyer was reluctant to approve the cost for the proposed trailer.

“I appreciate creativity, (but) I would like to have more information about municipalities that have some kind of vehicle like this and they use it,” he said. “It’s an interesting idea, for sure. I’m not opposed to it; I just would like some more information on it.”

“I don’t understand it,” Vice Mayor Louise Povlin said, adding Farragut residents are concerned.

“If we’re not selective about how we do it, are we muddying the residential experience?” she asked.

“I would like to understand what are the actual goals and the message we are trying to send out?”

“I think we’ve learned that probably 40 percent to 50 percent of tourism comes from people who are friends or family that have come to visit,” Pinchok replied. “The question is ‘what does the Town have to offer that week or month that these people are going to be here, and what can we do to entertain them?’”

Tindal said the mobile trailer could be used for events such as Bring the Zoo to the School, and could be used in expanding its regional reach, including attending tailgating events.

“A mobile center would allow you go get outside of Farragut and educate those visitors in the greater Knoxville area that may not know that TopGolf is here or Turkey Creek is open or that we have a movie night,” she added.

Meyer suggested the Tourism Committee try a dry run, first using a “tent and table” at various locations, before purchasing a trailer.

“If there are results from that, then maybe I would look to, maybe, investing capital into a vehicle,” he said.

“I like the idea,” Alderman Drew Burnette said. “I think this is a low-cost way to really get the word out. I’ve never been in favor of a visitors center here at the corner, but this (trailer) makes sense … taking a trailer to a football game, where you have a thousand people from an away school, that’s  a huge thing.”

Pinchok also noted the pull trailer would be an inexpensive solution to having a visitor center.

“I agree with Drew,” Mayor Ron Williams said. “I think it’s a good idea. There’s only one little caveat you’re not thinking of: It’s going to take a $65,000 to $70,000 truck to pull it.”

Parks and Recreation director Sue Stuhl added it also would take staff.

“I hear the dream; I hear the thesis; I am not all sold this will work,” Meyer said.