Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>Tax to help Jacksonville attractions

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s military museum wants to park a C-130 just to the north of the museum, and at least $120,000 year in tax-generated funding.

The Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society didn’t ask for a specific amount, but did say it needed “big bucks” for land acquisition to turn the battlefield into a site that would bring in 100,000 tourists a year. Spokesmen for the two groups presented their case before the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission Monday night as the group continued its discussion on adding a two-percent “hamburger” tax to the cost of restaurant foods.

Both the museum and battlefield groups, along with the chamber’s tourism committee, support the idea of the tax, which would add about $551,000 to the city’s coffers for the purpose of promoting the city and bringing in tourists.
In 2006, Jacksonville had 53 restaurants, and together, they did $28.4 million in business.

The commission made no decision on the tax issue, instead setting another meeting May 21 to debate the issue.
By law, the commission can ask for up to a three-cent tax on hotel rooms and up to a three-cent tax on prepared foods. That decision then goes to the city council where aldermen, not residents, have the final say. The commission and council have already initiated a two-cent hotel-room tax, which generates about $80,000 annual in funds for advertising and promotion. There is currently no prepared food tax.

Sherwood, which has no hotel tax, does have a hamburger tax which brings in $451,400 to the city’s advertising and promotion commission. Cabot has a 1.5-cent hotel room tax and a 1.5 hamburger tax.

The commission has been looking at the idea of a two-cent hamburger tax since the completion last year of a $12,000 tourism study, which recommended the city focus on developing a tourist district. The study said that Jacksonville does not have a true downtown. So it would have to develop a central or tourist district, like Little Rock did with the River Market.

According to the study, “The area around the military museum would seem to be the most logical place to anchor one end and perhaps the new library/park area on the other.”

Warren Dupree, representing the museum at the commission meeting, said that the museum had developed a six-year plan of expansion that included opening numerous exhibits and parking a retired C-130 just to the north of the museum. Dupree said if the commission and council approve the tax and allow the museum to have $120,000 a year, the museum could accelerate its expansion. “We could go from six years to about two and a half years,” Dupree said. Dupree said as the museum expands it incurs additional expenses in increased utilities, additional insurance and display maintenance.

The museum board also wants to hire a full time professional curator and an administrative assistant. Tommy Dupree, representing the battlefield group, reminded the commission that Reed’s Bridge is the most complete of seven battlefields that represent the Little rock campaign of the Civil War.

He said that the core area of the battlefield consists of 412 acres, but only 70.3 acres are under the control of the city or the preservation society, and of that about 40 acres are part of Dupree Park.

The society has plans to purchase another 86 acres at a cost of $700,000. Dupree said, “Funds for buying the land are the hardest to come up with. Scheduling the next meeting, Smith said, it was important that if the commission decides to go ahead with the tax it “can tell the people what the money is going to be used for.”