Even with the impending monsoon, Gulfport’s Aquamania rocked. I say despite a – let’s call it “active” – stint dunk tank. Let’s face it, many of our festivals are deja vu – all over again. And again. No disrespect intended towards Geckofest, Art Walk, Get Rescued, and the myriad of other street parties Gulfport dishes up weekly, but sometimes they all start to look alike.
Aquamania took a different road, celebrating our waterfront with Coney Island-style midway, weird and wacky water games, kayak races and a recycle regatta. It reminded us that we live on the water, and whether or not we think Boca Ciega Bay could use a little help with certain stormwater issues, we should always remember that to that guy from Idaho, even a bay beach is pretty sweet.
So it rained. So what? I hope to see, with no rain, a repeat of the festival next year. Of course, next year the Chamber will probably have to pay $500 for city staff’s time during the event.
Gulfport’s unique in that it historically donated city staff and trolley services for most events. Like other cities, Gulfport’s budget cup doesn’t exactly runneth over. This year’s budget seems slightly more under control, and $500 per event certainly won’t stuff the city coffers to overflowing, but the city has to reign in the freebies. It’s a shame, too, but saving has to start somewhere. I support that. In fact, I think groups like the Chamber should pay more. Before Lori’s head explodes, allow me to explain.
If you don’t know Gail, she’s the machine behind the city’s marketing department. Of course, the city doesn’t officially have a marketing department. Gail markets the city – within her limited power and budget – above and beyond her other duties. If you receive an e-mail, watch a city video, or view the council remotely, thank Gail. If you wonder how 200 people found out about the Lion’s Club fish fry, well, thank Gail for that, too. She lives in Gulfport, she works in Gulfport, and she gives her heart and soul to Gulfport. I am in total awe of how much she does for the city, and how little the city pays her to do it.
Marketing, as I am certain the Chamber, Merchant’s Association, and So49 will tell you, is expensive. That’s why the city needs to take the helm. It’s time for Gulfport to hire a public relations and marketing director. Gail needs a raise, a title, and an assistant. She already markets the city with almost no budget. Imagine – just think – what Gail if she could devote her 40-plus hours to marketing the city – with a budget to do so.
If the city’s business groups could work together with an impartial third party (that would be the city), they could pool their resources, add it to city and grant funding, and save money when buying advertising. It’s not just about that, though: it’s about a marketing director doing all the things these business groups do now instead of running their businesses. It’s about sharing the workload and still having input and reaping the benefits of someone’s dedication to bringing people and dollars into this city. For the Chamber and groups like them, a full-time marketing person who works in conjunction with them means they could focus on helping businesses grow.
But how does this help the residents? Residents already love Gulfport. They know how great Gulfport is, so why the effort? Because the more people who come to town, the more people discover Gulfport, and that could mean more people moving here. Fewer vacant homes might help increase property values and, perhaps, lower taxes. It could mean more people opening businesses here, and hiring local people. It could be the final piece of the pie for an incredible city by the sea.
Let’s just say that the city hires someone for $45,000. Factor in benefits and the cost to the city comes in at around $60,000. Divide that between the weekly market, the twice-monthly ArtWalks, Get Rescued, Geckofest, Blues Fest, SoStudio, Pet Pride, EarthFest, Fourth of July, SpringFest, Family Fun Day, SO Classic Car Show, Bark for Life, Relay for Life... the list, as you can see, goes on. And on. That doesn’t include the fish fries and yacht and sailing events the city already publicizes. Marketing budget? Each group shares that, based on what they’re spending now. It’s a no-brainer.
I’m not talking about the city taking control; I’m talking about the city leading a cooperative of artists, businesses, and government. I’m also not talking about a million–dollar marketing budget, but why not give Gail the latitude to boost Gulfport? She’s helped every business who has ever asked the city for a plug. Not because she gets paid to help; because she loves Gulfport. Why does city management allow her to do that? I don’t know; I’m assuming because management loves Gulfport just as much as the rest of us.
Right now, we’re a good city. It would take so very little to make us great.
The time has come to market the city on the bay. It’s the next logical step. But it takes money.
Consider it an investment in Gulfport.