Congratulations to the city council for pulling the plug on Orasi, the Fort Worth-based firm hired to address the considerable task of promoting Rockdale economically—especially its hotels and motels—in the post-Alcoa era.
That’s a no-brainer. Anyone doing any job who overspends a budget by 94 percent deserves to be fired.
On Orasi’s behalf, though, they delivered on expectations. They were supposed to bring a new set of eyes to look at Rockdale. They certainly did that.
But the big question is “now what?” If some of the comments, and soul searching, at Monday’s city council meeting were any indication, we’re entering a new era of accountability and that’s obviously a good thing.
Here’s the background. Until last year the Chamber of Commerce administered funds collected by local hotels and motels through a tax. It organized, and staffed, a number of annual events.
Friction developed between some on the city council and the Chamber. Things came to a head last fall during “negotiations” between the city and Chamber over administration of the hotel-motel tax.
By November the Chamber said “enough.” Directors voted unanimously not to administer the hotel-motel tax.
The Chamber emerged as a scaled-back organization, a kind of glorified information bureau. Its leading position, what was once accurately called a “manager,” vanished. The organization no longer had the funds to put on events.
The city had already been planning what was referred to as “requests for proposals” (RPPs), asking outside firms to come in and figure out new paths for the hotel-motel tax the Chamber had been administering. That led to the hiring of Orasi. Also, the city created a new tourism committee, essentially to do the Chamber’s old job administering hotel-motel tax funds and be Orasi’s boss.
Orasi’s initial plan was to make Rockdale a destination where big-city folks would periodically gather on a grand scale for big events. Sort of like the Rockdale Fair several times a year. It advertised its plans mostly in big-city ad buys and, of course, the click-and-swipe “social media.”
It didn’t work. Orasi spent $62,400 on a $32,400 budget for a pair of dances. Somehow the big-city folks found things to do in Austin and Aggieland instead of coming to Rockdale.
As of Monday evening, that’s all in the past. The council was in a very bottom-line mood during the meeting in which Orasi was essentially fired.
It looks like from now on, the council will judge every Rockdale event by one criterion, how many people it actually brings to Rockdale. The phrase for that is “heads in beds” and refers to how many people book motels to attend events. After all the money for events is being collected by those motels.
There’s supposed to be a post-event report showing how many “heads in beds” result from each event. That’s so a bottom line can be developed, aside from the “we had a wonderful time and everyone enjoyed themselves” conclusions.
A case in point. The Tejas Fest may be highly successful, and indeed, the council supported it Monday, authorizing expenditures of up to $17,500 from the hotel-motel tax for the bigger and better 2014 event.
But even Tejas came in for some scrutiny. The council mulled whether it’s actually doing the “heads in beds” job that’s going to be expected from Rockdale’s events.
According to the 2013 post-event report, last year’s Tejas Fest generated use of 24 motel rooms. The council wondered, though, just how many of those were used by authors coming to town for the Tejas, rooms that were paid for by the event. Answer—some.
Joan Ratliff, tourism committee chair, was refreshingly blunt in keeping the focus on results and said this year’s expanded and highly-anticipated Tejas will be a key in making decisions about future events.
“We either need to go big or go home,” she said.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if it turned out those sets of new eyes to look at our town have been here all along? Maybe it’s time to involve the Chamber and its hundreds of dedicated members again.—M.B.