Is tourism a viable industry in Dodge City?
The theory is, with Dodge City's rich western heritage and colorful history, plus the name recognition generated by shows like "Gunsmoke," which is still playing around the world in syndication, Dodge City should be able to sustain a vibrant tourism market.
In the 1990s, as Dodge City was developing plans for a casino, a conference center, a racetrack and a special events center, local leaders recognized the need for a coordinated tourism plan.
Heberling Associates, Inc, a cultural and heritage resource management consultant firm, was hired to study the existing tourism situation in Dodge City and to make recommendations to grow the local industry.
The plan they presented to the joint city and county commissions was extensive and packed with ideas and suggestions.
With the Why Not Dodge? sales tax revenue, planners had a stream of funds to commit to implementation of the plan but someone needed to prioritize the many aspects of the proposal.
So, in 2009, the Tourism Task Force was created and tasked with recommending the next steps toward Dodge City's tourism future.
By March of 2010, following months of poring through the plan, the task force was ready to make their recommendations for priorities.
"And when we submitted that report, that should have been the end of the Tourism Task Force," said Duane Ross, chair of the committee in an interview at City Hall Thursday.
City officials, however, recognized the potential usefulness of the group and asked them to continue working.
Now, the task force is focusing on strategies for implementation of their recommendations, on the feasibility of the plans and on additional financing opportunities.
"The task force is a great cross-section of the top leadership in the community," said Ken Strobel, city manager.
"We were trying to manage a city, then you add on the Why Not Dodge? projects, then you add on tourism — we needed a group to focus on implementation," he said.
The task force identified three existing attractions as number one priorities: Boot Hill Museum, the Depot and downtown Dodge.
"Those are generally our first contact with tourists," Ross said.
In addition, the group recognized the need for a coalition of all the tourism entities in town.
The coalition now meets with the guidance of Melissa McCoy, project development coordinator for the city of Dodge City.
Along with serving as a liaison with other groups such as the Community Facilities Advisory Board, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Main Street and Dodge City/Ford County Economic Development, McCoy keeps the tourism coalition moving forward.
"We just finished setting goals for 2013 this week," McCoy said.
Page 2 of 2 - "The fact that we have a staff person dedicated to tourism and our western heritage in Dodge City makes a lot of sense, where it might not in other towns," Strobel said.
"Our goal is to work through the tourism coalition with all Dodge City's attractions to help them accomplish their goals," Ross said.
The strategy is already working with projects such as the Santa Fe Depot.
"We're committed to stabilizing and building out the depot," Ross said.
The task force is working on transportation enhancement grants and tax credit applications to assist with funding repairs and maintenance at the depot.
"Our goal is to make the building more available to the community for what we call local tourism and other activities," Ross said.
The task force is also exploring ways to use vacant space in the building.
"We're looking at a restaurant, a boutique hotel, traveling exhibits, or anything that fits in the historical perspective of the building," Ross said.
The task force's 2013 goals also include funding more facade improvements downtown, funding for a consultant to help organizations with grant applications, and a contingency fund for opportunities as they arise.
And by every indication, the plans made years ago seem to be paying off.
"Our sales tax revenues are consistently up. Our transient guest tax numbers are also up, which shows more people are staying in town. That, in turn, means the restaurants are busy and so on," Strobel said.
"But this process is never complete. It's like a business: you continue to evolve," Ross said.