Melinda Dunn has been president and chief executive officer of the Decatur Convention and Visitors Bureau for about a month. She talked with The Decatur Daily about her plans to attract visitors to the city, what challenges the city faces and how the city's creative force can be an asset.
Question: What is your plan for making Decatur a recreation destination?
Answer: Everyone is looking for a connection, and Decatur epitomizes that. It has culture and ambiance. It's a place to come to for people wanting to experience the ambiance of the South.
We already have outstanding recreational facilities like the Jack Allen Soccer Complex and Wilson Morgan Park. We've created a wonderful infrastructure for sports. In recent years, the city has adopted an "if you build it, they will come" mentality. We're holding tremendous tournaments, which creates a great opportunity for hotels and restaurants.
Q: How are Decatur's hotels and restaurants? Do they need to grow?
A: We need more hotels. We get these big events in April, May and June, and we have to send some of our guests to Huntsville. Our newest hotel is 13 years old. Our hotels take pride in serving their guests, but we don't want to have overflow. We want people not only to day trip here but spend several nights. So far this year, we're showing a 16 percent increase in lodging taxes over this time last year, and this is even the slowest season.
There is a new interest in Southern culture and Southern cuisine, and I think that is highlighting our restaurants.
Q: What are Decatur's strengths?
A: As a mom, I can imagine women like me saying, "Let's ditch the kids for a day and go to Decatur." They can go to salons or spas; they can shop at our antique stores. Then they might go to Morgan Price for some candy.
Nature lovers can hit up Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. They can go geocaching. History buffs can take a road trip to see the Blue and Gray Museum or the Pickwick Belle.
Q: Can the creative class in Decatur contribute to attracting guests?
A: The creative class is definitely a part of tourism. All you have to do is look around. Mardi Gras is a great example. That may start out small, but it could grow into a whole weekend. It's creative, artistic. It can be something.
Places like Savannah, Ga., have a vibrant creative community that contributes to that community's image. We want to strengthen our resources like the Princess Theater and the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and the Alabama Center for the Arts.
Q: How does Decatur compete with Huntsville for tourists?
A: I'm not sure we are actually in a competition with Huntsville. We're not Huntsville. We don't have the Space and Rocket Center. We have a history and culture that is unique and special to Decatur. In many ways, we're a model.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at 256-340-2445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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