Vidalia cuts $480K out of Riverfront budget

Published 12:43 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016


VIDALIA — Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft projects the budget of the Riverfront to decrease by approximately $480,000 this fiscal year.

During the 2015 fiscal year, the Riverfront ended up with an operating loss of $904,417 more than operating revenues, which were $137,759. Expenses were $1,042,176.

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Craft said approximately $430,000 in salaries had been cut from the convention center and approximately $50,000 in operating costs. Craft said the numbers were preliminary projections.

“If we can continue to increase the income, we can come closer to operating in the black,” Craft said. “I feel like the new management has made the convention center more user friendly, and we are not giving any services away.”

Craft said he believes with a more reasonable staffing level and new strategies, the Riverfront should be able to pay for itself.

“I feel like we can close the gap pretty strongly,” Craft said. “We are marketing more to weddings, other kinds of functions and coming up with ways to have events there.”

Expenses on the Riverfront include personnel, the amphitheater, convention center, insurance, maintenance and upkeep and security.

Vidalia Conference and Convention Center Director Regenia Fleming said her main goal is attracting more business to the convention center, as well as to the town.

“My primary focus for the facility is to build a positive rapport with clients and make sure they leave satisfied,” Fleming said. “I want to make sure their stay here is memorable, so they will make a point to come back.”

Fleming was named the new director in July. Previously, she had served at the convention center in a sales and marketing role for eight years.

The convention center has had two conventions since July and Fleming said she is looking to build on that number.

“I am enjoying the job — it is challenging as well as rewarding,” she said. “I’ve worked at the supervisory level before, but this has been the most rewarding.”

One new aspect to the convention center, Fleming said, is they are offering package deals to accommodate the needs of clients to make the experience more affordable.

The conference center formerly only offered rates for rooms individually, but now Fleming said clients can get package deals for renting multiple rooms.

Fleming said she has also updated policies to meet state regulations, including with catering, which requires companies to provide workman’s comp insurance.

Craft said opening the center up to other caterers would help the facility.

“In the past, the people were restricted to one company that had lots of complaints,” Craft said. “People did not want to use the convention center because they complained about the cost and the quality of the food being prepared.

“Now it is opened up to other caterers for people to use.”

Currently, Fleming said her focus is on beautifying the center as well as the Riverfront.

“My job is to sell this facility and give clients a reason to want to be here,” she said. “Word of mouth has become a very good tool. We have had clients from various parts of the country.”

The marketing department of the facility is also working on updating the website and the brochures. The brochure will include the attractions of Vidalia, as well as the Miss-Lou, plus the hotels and restaurants. The Riverfront features a Comfort Suites with a new hotel currently being built.

“Our main attraction is the Mississippi River,” Fleming said. “When clients contact us, one of their first questions is, “How close are you to the river?’

“And I say, ‘We are right on the river.’”

Craft said he believes Fleming has built a better rapport with the hotels and businesses on the Riverfront than the city had previously“I feel like (we have) good people in place to sell the convention center and not be a deterrent to it,” Craft said. “I want all businesses on the Riverfront to succeed and thrive.”