Warren County and Front Royal leaders agreed this week to let a nonprofit group handle tourism marketing.
The county Board of Supervisors and the Town Council met Monday to discuss the next steps to take to push local tourism. North River District Supervisor Delores R. Oates requested that board and council members meet.
Oates and supervisors Chairwoman Cheryl L. Cullers met with town representatives on Monday, including Front Royal Vice Mayor Lori A. Cockrell and council members Gary L. Gillispie and Joseph E. McFadden to determine the best way to proceed with the tourism initiative.
“Well, I’ve been involved in it from its inception, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m very invested in this process,” Oates said by phone Tuesday. “One of the factors that drives this effort is so many of our constituents want to know how we’re gonna prevent the community from becoming Gainesville or, you know, Manassas, and the way to do that, the way to preserve the integrity of our community, the rural character, is to develop tourism to its greatest capacity because then you don’t have to have development to grow and so you can do tourism as the method of growth and manage the growth that way.”
Some vocal residents have expressed concern that the town and the county outsourced tourism and marketing to a private company rather than keep the responsibilities under the government. Local tourism and marketing efforts across the state come in different forms, Oates explained. Representatives at the Monday night meeting reached a consensus to support a plan allowing an independent destination marketing organization to form under a nonprofit or 501(c)3, named Discover Front Royal, to oversee tourism.
Representatives from the council and the board of supervisors would serve on the nonprofit’s governing body to maintain oversight, help drive decisions, inform the public about the organization’s direction, and moderate success, Oates explained. State code requires that the nonprofit's board include a representative from the local lodging industry, Oates said. The town and the county already have qualified applicants interested in helping in the process, Oates said.
“It will be a community effort because it will have that representation on that board,” Oates said.
The organization would hire its own employees. The town and the county would fund the organization, Oates said. Per state code, she noted the county must allocate 3% of the 5% transient lodging tax collected toward tourism spending. The state does not require Front Royal to spend transient lodging tax revenue on tourism.
“Putting our funds together ... is a more efficient way, I think, to build our tourism brand,” Oates said.
In 2020, then interim Front Royal Town Manager Matthew Tederick and council members restructured parts of the local government, which resulted in terminations and eliminations of some positions, such as those responsible for tourism and marketing.
Town and county leaders used the restructuring as an opportunity to work together on local tourism initiatives, Oates explained. The town and the county saw a benefit in combining their revenue collected for tourism and using it jointly to hire an outside expert in the field, Oates said.
A joint tourism committee with town and county representatives existed at the time. A commission formed with town and county representatives as well as people in the local tourism industry and hired Jones Lang Lasalle Inc., or JLL, a private company with expertise in the field.
From there, the tourism commission discussed how to form an organization focused on drawing tourists that would equally represent the town and county, Oates recalled. Members decided to form a joint committee that would eventually become an independent entity or board, she said. However, members ran into a legal hurdle: They could not create an independent entity without the permission of the Virginia General Assembly, Oates explained. The process stalled and members did not want to wait to receive permission to form the board.
The Town Council authorized Mayor Christopher W. Holloway to sign a memorandum of agreement with the destination marketing organization — Discover Front Royal — once the county provides the document, Town Manager Steven Hicks explained in an email Tuesday. Council members did not want to delay the tourism committee to move forward and wanted Discover Front Royal to be successful, Hicks said.
Hicks added that legal counsel for the county advised the town that parties needed state approval to create an authority or board to oversee tourism and marketing — a process that would take too long. The joint tourism committee then chose to pursue creation of the nonprofit.