A&P Commission sets budget, reviews funding proposals

The El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission doled out more than $356,400 in funding requests to help promote local events in the city this year.

Commissioners met last month to set their 2023 budget and funding levels for requests for proposals (RFPs) that were submitted by 11 groups.

The commission agreed to increase the amount of the RFP line item after funding awards exceeded the amount that had initially been recommended by an A&P ad hoc committee that had been formed to sift through RPFs and draft a 2023 A&P budget proposal.

Working with an overall budget of $565,250, commissioners allocated:

• $15,000 for the administration line item.

• $20,000 for non-designated.

• $40,250 to publish the El Dorado Insider quarterly magazine in 2023 and 2024.

Don Hale, president of the Diamond Agency -- EAPC's agency of record and publisher of the Insider --, reminded commissioners that they approved the amount and two-year contract for the magazine in July of 2022.

• $60,000 to help the city host the 2023 Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism.

The 44th annual conference will be held in El Dorado Feb. 26 - 28, marking the first time the conference will be held in El Dorado.

A&P Commissioner and El Dorado City Council Member Dianne Hammond also said El Dorado will be the first city with a population below 20,000 to host the AGCT.

The conference is expected draw 3,000 - 4,000 attendees.

"That's in addition to the $505,250 (total A&P budget)," Harrison said in reference to the $60,000 budget line item for the AGCT.

"Since the governor's conference is a one-time deal, we figured it would be better to have that line item by itself, so it's $565,250," she explained.

• $80,000 for advertising and marketing services from the Diamond Agency.

A&P commissioners initially proposed $350,000 for RFPs but they later agreed to increase the line item by $6,445 to cover an overage in RFP awards.

Hammond and commissioners Maria Simpson (A&P treasurer), Kelli Harrison and Barbie Luther, immediate past A&P chairman, served on an ad-hoc committee to review the RFPs and return to the full commission with a recommendation for the 2023 budget.

Harrison said the committee also set a target to meet at least 75% of the amount of each RFP.

The A&P commission, which draws its revenue from a 3% lodging tax, aims to promote events that are likely to generate overnight stays in local hotels and motels.

Individuals and groups who seek A&P funding to help promote and advertise events, attractions and projects in the city must target visitors outside a 50-mile radius of El Dorado.

Many of the events for which funding was awarded are annual events in the city.

For some groups, such as the Downtown Business Association, Main Street El Dorado, the Murphy Arts District (MAD) and the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, funding awards will be used to promote multiple events each group has planned throughout the year.

2023 RFPs

Funding for 2023 events was awarded to:

• Murphy USA Boomtown Classic, $4,000.

A&P chairman Don Miller presented the funding request for the event and as a Murphy USA employee, he abstained from the vote.

• Downtown Business Association, $10,000.

• Murphy Arts District (MAD), $120,000.

The amount did not include funding for the MAD on Ice ice-skating rink, for which the A&P approved $85,000 last year.

MAD and the A&P commission are exploring purchase-rental options for the skating rink and on Jan. 23, Pam Griffin, MAD president and CEO, said MAD was still putting together a report for the 2022 - 2023 season of MAD on Ice, which ran from Nov. 19 to Jan. 2.

"I'd be interested in seeing the figures, not just the money, but the impact to see if it's something we need to do every year," said Luther said.

Added Griffin, "Yeah, right, such as where people come from or if we need to change it up and refresh it so that it doesn't become stale."

Griffin and Joanna Benson, marketing coordinator for MAD, also noted that MAD has continued to expand its overall marketing campaign, targeting statewide and regional publications and niche markets, such as weddings.

Griffin said there has been an uptick in bookings for weddings at MAD facilities and Benson said an upcoming wedding was expected to bring in 600 guests, many of them from out of town.

MAD books an average of two weddings per month and hosted four last October, Griffin told A&P commissioners.

Benson said there has also been an increase high-school prom bookings in the MAD entertainment complex.

"They're choosing us because our facility is large and has enough space where they can invite their guests," said Benson.

• Lions Club Municipal Golf Course, $1,890.

A first-time applicant for A&P funds, members of the El Dorado Parks and Playgrounds Commission said the money will be used to create marketing materials to promote the municipal golf course.

The project will include rack cards, professional photography and the development of a digital logo, parks and playgrounds commissioners have said.

• Main Street El Dorado, $117,055.

• Mayhaw Festival, $5,000.

• Mr. Mike's Productions, $11,000.

Mr. Mike's hosts three outdoor blues and southern soul concerts, including Soul Fest, the Southern Soul Showdown and The Last Dance.

The events draw throngs of people, including out-town-visitors from around the region, to the Union County Fairgrounds each year.

Mr. Mike's also presents several indoor concerts throughout the year.

Hammond recused herself from the vote, citing a court judgment surrounding a total of $3,134 in rental fees ($2,917) for city facilities and $217 in court costs.

The judgement stemmed from a 2021 filing by the city against Mr. Mike's Productions in unpaid rental fees for city facilities, including the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, between June of 2015 and October of 2017.

Michael Jackson, of Mr. Mike's, previously said had worked with the city to resolve the issue and prior to the court filing, he had received conflicting information about the matter, having initially been told by former city officials that the fees would be waived and the matter settled.

In August of 2021, four months after the Union County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the city, the El Dorado City Council agreed to allow Jackson to continue renting city facilities as long as he pays $500 toward the court judgement each time he rents a city facility, in addition to the regular rental fee.

On Jan. 23, Hammond inquired about the balance of the debt that was owed to the city.

Jackson said he had paid more than $2,000 toward the judgement and had attempted to remit a final payment to the city prior to the A&P meeting

He presented receipts of past payments and a check that was intended for the final payment.

"I have reservations about it, knowing that it hasn't been paid in full," Hammond said.

"The A&P commission is independent of the city and we have the ability to consider a funding request based on the merit of the request," Miller said.

• Murphy USA Shootout, $18,000.

• South Arkansas Arts Center, $3,000.

• South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, $61,500.

• SouthArk Outdoor Expo, $5,000.

The A&P commission will next meet at 1:30 p.m. on March 1 in the Council Chamber of City Hall.

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