CATEGORY: Lafayette County

AUTHOR: CASTEN

HED: Oxford takes sharp look at tourism money

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD - Aldermen turned a critical eye Tuesday night upon tourism-tax funding for some events that have become traditions in the area.

Instead of the $25,000 requested from the University of Mississippi for next year's Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, the board voted a $15,804 grant.

"I'm concerned about such a large sum of money to such a small group of people," said Alderman John Mistilis. The University had reported an attendance of 100 people for the weeklong summer event that has drawn several times that many in years past.

Other aldermen also expressed reservations about the return to the city for its tourism dollars, which come from a 2 percent tax on meals and lodging, citing clear-cut state guidelines that say the funds must be spent on tourism-related projects.

"This represents an exception," Alderman Tom Sharpe said. "This is a defining event for Oxford, and it brings year-round benefits."

Sharpe noted that New Albany's Faulkner Centennial in September 1997 may have drawn away some attendance from the Yoknapatawpha Conference.

'Book' gets another try

The board voted a grant of $14,054 for the 1999 Oxford Conference for the Book, compared to a $25,000 request. Attendance at that April event was also down sharply in 1998.

The previous year's conference had featured writers John Grisham and Stephen King, and 1998's event lacked such a headliner. Organizers hope for an increase in registration next year with Pulitzer-winning Mississippi author Eudora Welty headlining the event.

"It takes a while for the events to get off the ground," said Tourism Council president Pat Patterson. "We ought to try one more year here" on the book conference.

After approving small grants for a radio show aired before a live audience and for printing a guide to downtown Oxford, aldermen turned down requests from organizers of two small events.

Mathcounts (a junior-high math competition held at Ole Miss) and OxTales (a story-telling exhibition held as part of Oxford's Double-Decker Festival in April) were noted as "worthy events," but did not fit within tourism funding rules, aldermen said.

Hotels, growth potential

In other tourism-related business, board members voted to allow a variance to a hotel parking ordinance for the planned "Inn by the Square."

The ordinance requires hotels to provide one parking space per guest room. The developer had said he could not build the 47-room hotel if he were not allowed to use on-street and remote lots to accommodate guests' vehicles.

Two matters relevant to Oxford's projected massive growth were taken under consideration.

Sharpe informed fellow board members of progress on a business incubator that is to be shared with Grenada and Panola counties, with its major facility located in Oxford.

The Economic Development Administration has asked for a detailed proposal for funding $1,120,000 for the incubator, Sharpe said, which is not a guarantee, but "usually means they intend to grant the funding," he added.

Annexation was a high priority for many who responded to the city's recent long-range planning initiative. Two bordering neighborhoods - Rivers Hill and Brittany Woods - submitted petitions for annexation. Both petitions were taken under consideration without immediate action.

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