Last updated: May 16. 2014 6:32PM - 824 Views
By Jessica Johnson jessicajohnson@civitasmedia.com

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The Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority (MATDA) may consider providing funds to construct restrooms at Blackmon Amphitheatre, after MATDA board member and City Commissioner Shirley Brinkley approached the board about the project.

“Bathrooms are a capital expenditure that is desperately needed,” Brinkley told the board. “I propose we consider this because we have tourists who come here and ask what is going on in town, then we send them to the amphitheatre and it is embarrassing to not have bathrooms there, especially for the elderly.”

At the city government planning retreat in March, city officials identified goals for upcoming months, including possible projects to be funded in the 2014-15 municipal budget that goes into effect on July 1. One of the goals mentioned at the retreat was the possibility of constructing amphitheatre restrooms, with estimates presented ranging from $60,000 up to $100,000. At that time, City Manager Barbara Jones said the difference in cost related to factors such as how many stalls would be included.

Brinkley said at the retreat that the restrooms were long overdue, and the lack of restrooms left the town in a bad light with those who attend concerts at the venue, especially visitors from outside the area. Right now, those who attend concerts at the amphitheatre are directed to use restrooms at the library or city hall.

At the MATDA board meeting, Brinkley brought forth her concerns about the lack of restrooms, calling it a “desperate need” for the city and referring to Session Law 2003-281, Senate Bill 497, Section 12. The bill authorized the city to levy a room occupancy tax of up to 3 percent, remitting the net proceeds to the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority, who should “use at least two-thirds of the funds to promote travel and tourism in the Mount Airy area,” with the rest for “tourism-related expenditures.”

“Tourism-related expenditures” are designated as expenditures that “are designed to increase the use of lodging facilities, meeting facilities, and convention facilities in the city” including ” tourism-related capital expenditures.”

Under that definition, Brinkley said, restroom facilities at Blackmon Amphitheatre would be a proper use of the funds, since the amphitheatre attracts visitors with Surry Arts Council's Summer Season Concert Series, with bands performing multiple times per week from April through September, including The Embers, Sea-Cruz, and more.

Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce/Visitors Center Director of Tourism and Marketing Jessica Icenhour Roberts added that the MATDA originally funded the construction of the amphitheatre.

Brinkley brought examples of a possible design for the restroom, and said she believed they could be built for anywhere from $62,000 to $72,000, based on what was presented at the city planning retreat. She added that perhaps the cost could be lower if the restrooms are built without heat, with most of the events taking place at the amphitheatre during warmer months.

“It is a courtesy to the tourists as well as the citizens and I would love for us to consider this,” Brinkley said. “I am tickled to be part of this team and know what was accomplished there already, and I would love to be able to say we were able to fund this project.”

Cleaning and maintenance of the restrooms would fall to city employees, Brinkley added, who already clean up after events held at the amphitheatre.

MATDA President Lenise Lynch said she thought it was a great idea, adding that Pam Stone, the interim financial director for the city, could help them look into finances the board would discuss it further at the June meeting. Stone chimed in and said if it moves forward, the estimate would have to be redone.

Roberts said the budget would be presented at the next meeting, and they could look at the proposal at that time.

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.

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