Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder 

MILLEDGEVILLE - The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) gave a surprise donation to local attractions last week, awarding a total of $27,000.

"We know our attractions are struggling and we found ourselves in a position that we've never been in before. We have done a really good job of keeping our expenses down and our occupancy up in the last couple of years," said Jane Sowell, executive director of the CVB. "We had some available cash and at our board meeting we discussed what to do with it. We felt like giving it back to the community was the best thing to do because we see the attractions as our partners."

The Old Governor's Mansion, Georgia's Old Capital Museum, Lockerly Arboretum, Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation and the Oconee River Greenway Authority each received a $5,000 donation from the CVB. The Deep Roots Festival and the Milledgeville Film Festival were also awarded $1,000 each.

"This is a wonderful surprise," said Maj. Gen. Peter Boylan (Ret.), chair of the Greenway board. "We have concerns with doubling the size of the Greenway with the maintenance cost, so this comes at a very propitious time for us."

"This was a complete surprise," added Elizabeth Wylie, executive director of the Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation. "We plan to use this money to redo our website to make it more user-friendly and add graphics. We will also install a safe floor in the cow barn."

"This is an unexpected windfall at an unexpected time. We're just thrilled and we're proud to be a partner with the CVB," said Amy Wright, executive director of Georgia's Old Capital Museum. "Our portion of the money will go toward addressing the needs at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House. We're so appreciative in the [CVB's] investment in the museum and the house."

The CVB is funded by the local hotel/motel tax. Visitors of local hotels and motels pay 15 percent tax, in which 7 percent is state tax and 8 percent is hotel/motel tax. The city collects the tax generated, and the CVB is given 6.5 percent. The CVB uses funds to help market the community statewide and nationally.

"Every year we come up with a marketing plan and decide how we're going to spend the money; some goes toward technology, ads and special projects," Sowell said. "We purchase ads in national publications, we buy ads online, partner with other communities and participate in several trade shows throughout the year. In the past we've done a driving tour of the city and an iPod walking tour. Last year we even did 360 degree videos of some of our attractions. For a small CVB, I think we've got some great initiatives."

In 2012, Baldwin County's tourism industry supported 740 jobs and generated $77.6 million in direct tourism spending. Around $2.8 million in state tax revenues were created and $2.3 million in local tax revenues were generated. As a result of the taxes created by tourism economic activity, each Baldwin County household received $311.94 in tax relief per household.

"Any dollars spent in the community turns over seven times," Sowell said. "We're still in tough times, but we're so thrilled to be able to give back to our attractions."