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Return of the Jehovah's Witness convention spells big bucks for Fort Smith

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The Fort Smith Convention Center's largest annual economic impact begins this weekend with three weekends of regional meetings for the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

In 2015 the conventions contributed about $11 million to the center's estimated $28 million economic impact with out-of-town dollars, according to the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission. A measuring stick was created by not having the group's convention in Fort Smith in 2014 due to a national convention.

Between 3,500 and 4,000 people are expected to attend each weekend over the course of three weeks this year. A regional convention starts Thursday and the two following weekends, July 8 and July 15, are Spanish speaking Jehovah's Witness conventions.

"It is the largest convention we have and by far the largest economic impact," Convention Center Director Tim Seeberg said.

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith A&P Commission, said the conventioneers would be encouraged to download the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau's new app Experience Fort Smith to find restaurants and other entertainment features of the city. The CVB debuted the app in November on iOS App Store and Google Play.

"This is the big convention time of the year, and we're real excited they're coming in," Legris said. "You'll see a whole bunch of people downtown Friday."

Key features of the Experience Fort Smith app include social media integration and click-to-action tools and location services that enable users to interact with local businesses. App users can share app content, find contact information, make use of turn-by-turn navigation, and browse categories that sort lists based on the user's present location.

Mural coverage

Art from The Unexpected mural festival also gives new life to the CVB's website and mobile app decorations.

The murals painted by international streets artists like D*FACE, Ana Maria, and Biciclet Sem Freio as part of 64.6 Downtown's first The Unexpected are also being used heavily to help promote Fort Smith in a number of publications as varied as Group Travel Leader, Connect Sports and Small Market Meetings.

The CVB contributed to ancillary projects with the mural festival like production of a promotional video, Legris said. But most of the contributions come from private donors and local businesses. The CVB provides maps of the mural locations at Miss Laura's with photos and biographies of the artists. Sponsors of the artist's work are also listed: Propak Logistics; RH Gahn & Cooper Commercial Properties; Beaty Capital Temple Holdings; Arvest Bank; First National Bank of Fort Smith and BHC Insurance; Weldon, Williams & Lick; Beautify Fort Smith; R&D Management; and the Hanna Family.


The convention center's invoiced revenue for May was down $2,551, about 7 percent, for a total of $35,037. Including concessions and catering, however, the center remains 4.36 percent above revenue in the same period last year. Year-to-date revenue at the convention center is $271,313, compared to $259,986 by the end of May 2015.

Seeberg said the convention center staff plans to replace all of the center's dialectric unions, a component of the heating and cooling system, in the coming year for an estimated $40,000. There are several dozen of the pieces that join pipes of different metals in the center's system. When they fail, leaks occur. Staff has replaced about six of them so far this year, and the pieces are past their life expectancy, Seeberg added.

About $100,000 is budgeted annually for maintenance issues and most of the fund is spent each year, Seeberg said.

The Fort Smith CVB, which operates Miss Laura's Visitor Center at 2 N. B St. and conducts advertising and promotions for the city, presented financials to the A&P Commission on Tuesday.

Revenues from the city's 3 percent lodging tax were up 14.4 percent in April compared to the same period last year with April's motel occupancy up 12 percent, Legris said.

Monthly revenue for the CVB was $79,614, about $8,890 more than budgeted. Expenses were $55,755, about $10,122 less than budgeted. The A&P fund balance as of April 30 was $183,509.


Source: http://swtimes.com/news/return-jehovahs-witness-convention-spells-big-bucks-fort-smith

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