Phatwater organizer wants growth

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; With a little advertising help, Keith Benoist believes the annual Phatwater Kayak Challenge, Oct. 14 and 15, will be bigger and better than ever.

On Wednesday, Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission board members agreed to provide assistance by paying for two ads in consecutive editions of &8220;Paddler Magazine&8221; in late summer and early fall.

&8220;This magazine reaches more people that we&8217;re trying to target than any other publication,&8221; Benoist said.

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The race already is attracting attention among paddling enthusiasts in other parts of the country. For the upcoming fall race, groups from Pennsylvania and New York are planning to take part, he said.

&8220;We have had only the Internet for advertising,&8221; Benoist said. &8220;It costs about $9,000 to put on the race last year, but there was no money for advertising.&8221;

The race is in its fifth year. Last year, about 85 took part in the two-day event. &8220;We had 100 registered to take part, but the race was immediately following (Hurricane) Katrina,&8221; Benoist said.

Walter Tipton, director of tourism, said &8220;Paddler Magazine&8221; not only has 25,000 subscribers but also puts about 20,000 more magazines on news stands and takes them to big conventions and trade shows.

&8220;We negotiated a good rate with them,&8221; he said. The half-page ad, normally $3,104, will cost $2,267.

&8220;This is an event that has great potential,&8221; Tipton said.

Board member Rene Adams agreed. &8220;We want to diversify our events. We want to get the kinds of people who travel to events like this,&8221; she said.

Benoist said the Natchez race has great potential to grow because of what Natchez has to offer. &8220;I was at a race in Memphis, and there were 400 people, but 350 of them were from Memphis,&8221; he said.

The Phatwater Challenge is a 45-mile kayak and canoe race that begins at Grand Gulf near Port Gibson and ends at Natchez Under-the-Hill.

Serious racers may complete the course in about four hours. Recreational paddlers may take an extra two hours.

A new event in 2005, which will be repeated this year, is the biyak biathlon, which combines skills on bicycles with kayaks and canoes in a fast-paced ground and water race.

&8220;I think will have over 100 at the race this year,&8221; Benoist said. &8220;And 90 of those will be from outside of Natchez.&8221;

In other business at the meeting, board members heard from Tammy Gardner about the Sept. 29-30 Arts and Soul event, which debuted last year and was considered a big success. &8220;I already have the two big street sponsors,&8221; she said. &8220;It&8217;s going to be bigger and better.&8221;

The event features artists and food vendors, along with entertainment, on Main and Commerce streets, which are blocked off for pedestrian-only traffic.

Tipton said tourism-related tax receipts in March were up 18 percent compared to 2005 &8220;and are the highest on record for a single month,&8221; suggesting that our additional advertising helped offset the lack of bus tours and the lack of the Delta Queen steamboat visitors.

The commission will meet next on June 21 at the Natchez Convention Center.