College Park wants to be 'a destination'

In an effort to make College Park a must-visit area for tourists and others, Destination Marketing Organization was created to help make that goal a reality, according to a member of the organization’s board of directors.

Mercedes Miller, who is also assistant director of the Georgia International Convention Center, said the city-affiliated organization was approved by the College Park City Council on July 1, and will collect a hotel/motel tax from visitors, which will go toward the city’s economic development and marketing initiatives.

“It allows the city to ... collect tax and use it to market, or further the hospitality aspect of this region,” added College Park Spokesman Gerald Walker.

Miller said House Bill 705 helped get the ball rolling for the Destination Marketing Organization. The bill, sponsored by State Reps. Virgil Fludd (D-Tyrone), Joe Heckstall (D-East Point) and Ralph Long (D-Atlanta), allows College Park to levy an excise tax, added Miller.

According to the Georgia General Assembly’s web site –– www.legis.ga.gov –– HB 705 was signed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue on June 4, 2010.

Miller said 2 percent of the hotel/motel tax goes to promote tourism and trade shows, and 1.5 percent of that is allocated by the Destination Marketing Organization. “For the first time, College Park is implementing a tax such as this ... in order to do more promotion of the city,” she said.

She said the city’s mayor and council, along with former City Manager William Johnson, III, and Hugh Austin, city manager and GICC executive director, decided to create the organization.

College Park, she said, is focused on the hotel/motel tax, because “in the state of Georgia, the thing that drives more tax money is hospitality ... We are a big hospitality mecca.”

Spokesman Walker said College Park has a large number of hotels per capita, and the city sees an obvious business-and economic-development opportunity there.

He said the city is working on making itself a destination, because it realizes it has valuable assets within its territory, including the second-largest ballroom in the state of Georgia, housed at GICC, the College Park Golf Course, and the Atlanta airport’s Concourses A and T.

Miller said the Destination Marketing Organization will operate as its own entity. Her involvement with the organization is to guide it, and help it get on its feet, to the point where it will be able to operate independently.

In addition herself, Miller said, College Park’s mayor and council appointed board members for the organization. She said they chose people with skills that will benefit the organization. Some are business owners, and others have experience serving on boards. “All are residents of College Park, so they have a vested interest,” she said. The board also includes a restaurateur and three hotel general managers, added Miller.

During a College Park council meeting on Nov. 7, board members of the Destination Marketing Organization requested $15,000 from the city council to hire a consultant, who will help them develop a request for proposals to hire an executive director. The council approved the request unanimously.

Miller explained that it may not cost $15,000 just to hire a consultant, but at least the organization has funds to hit the ground running. The executive director, she said, will work for the board and will have responsibilities such as creating a marketing-and-business plan, as well as setting a budget for the organization.