Local reaction to the tourism study
April 9, 2008
Local reaction to the tourism study completed by Gary Esolen and PLACES ranges from positive to lukewarm to incredulous. 'It's just a pretty disappointing response, I think,' Jim Decker, President and CEO of the Warren County Chamber of Commerce, said of the study. 'I don't see that it gives us any real definitive directions. It's very similar to reports we've seen in the past. (The consultants) tell you everything you tell them. You either get a cookie cutter response from the 13 other communities they've looked at or you get your own thoughts thrown back at you in a different presentation. There's not an awful lot here that hasn't been talked in circles here. It's not giving us a real lot of 'reaching for the stars' activities coming out of here. It's a little disappointing that he doesn't paint a brighter picture.' Warren Main Street Manager Chris Cheronis isn't pleased with the study. Cheronis claims Main Street was kept out of a majority of the planning process and was denied a seat on the study's steering committee during the information gathering process. According to her, Main Street lost its seat on the steering committee when former manager Leanne Tingay resigned her Main Street position to take a job in Erie in August 2006. Cheronis served as the Main Street's board president during that time, in addition to being a member of Warren City Council and being employed by the WCCBI. She was eventually named the new Main Street manager to replace Tingay. Cheronis said she repeatedly asked Diane Shawley, director of the Warren County Vacation Bureau (WCVB), to allow Main Street to have a presence on the study's steering committee. The WCVB was the lead agency in administering the $100,000 state grant that paid for the tourism study. 'I asked over and over while I was on the board and we were never included,' Cheronis said. 'I sent an email to Gary Esolen and asked to be involved. He said it was up to Diane.' Cheronis said she attended one of the tourism study meetings as a representative of the WCCBI in May 2006. She said that Shawley told her later that she couldn't sit on the steering committee because Cheronis was a member of the WCCBI. According to Cheronis, Shawley said that giving her a seat would give the WCCBI a double presence on the steering committee, due to Jim Decker already holding a seat. 'Main Street wasn't involved in the way it should of been involved; the city has the same concerns,' Cheronis said. 'I sent emails, I sent requests. The city wasn't involved to the extent it should have been. The information in (the final report) is outdated or inaccurate. I can pick through this and say, 'This has already been done, the city is already working on this.' This study doesn't make it sound like we are doing anything.' Cheronis said that Shawley eventually allowed Anita Cohan, a part-time employee for the Main Street program, to sit on the steering committee. 'At the end of the process we were given a seat at the table,' Cheronis said. 'By then all the information gathering was completed. The frustration is after the steering committee met, there was supposed to be interactive followups with the Library Theatre, Main Street, etc. to discuss things. There never were. There was a big struggle to include Main Street. Everyone is saying we need to work together, we need to work together. The need is there. We need to stop being so political. 'This is not a witch hunt, it's not pointing fingers,' Cheronis said of her complaints. 'We need to address this. We, as a community, we have to decide if it's time to make some changes. We need someone or some group to fill this (tourism development) position. The job is huge. One person cannot do it all. We have too much at stake to drop the ball on this.' A list of steering planning committee members was provided to the Times Observer by Shawley. The committee included: Donna Smith, Marty Hinton, Warren County Commissioner John Bortz, John Eggleson and David Bauer, Jim Osbourne, Jim Decker, Leanne Tingay, Chuck Johnson, Paul Sinclair, Nancy Holmberg, Chris Seymour, Dan Glotz, Bob Raible, Coleen Christy Realty, Blair, the Allegheny National Forest, Craig Scalise, Mike Olewine of State Rep. Kathy Rapp's office, Nancy Moony and Irish Smith, John Pape and Piper Lindell. 'It's fact,' Shawley wrote in a email to the Times Observer. 'The City and Main Street were invited. I'd like to know who feels snubbed because I'll contact then and set this straight.' Allen McIntosh, representing the Warren Landmark Foundation and a board member for the Crary Gallery, sided with Cheronis, saying that there were parties missing on the steering committee. McIntosh attended many of the study's planning sessions, calling them 'long, four or five hours' and 'productive.' 'But all the parties weren't at the table,' McIntosh said. 'Main Street, the city, the marina on the reservoir, the Crary. Warren County wasn't represented at the table. I have no idea why. I mean, the Crary? The Crary is the only organization for sure that's truly an excellent fine arts gallery.' Esolen weighed in on the steering committee selection process via an email: 'We did not choose the steering committee for this project, that was done by the WCVB, I assume in cooperation with the county commissioners. We had broad participation, and I am sure Diane Shawley can document that and explain her decisions as to who was invited.' 'I can't speak to that,' Warren County Commissioner John Eggleston said, concerning Cheronis' claim that Main Street wasn't included in much of the information gathering process. 'I don't know why they would be excluded. Certainly we were never asked about that. We were asked to give input on who would be on the steering committee. I can't see any reason for (Main Street not having a seat). I don't have any reason to question what Chris is saying, but I don't have any first-hand knowledge.' Asked if he believed the study might be outdated due to the length of time it took to complete it, Eggleston said. 'Not really. I think that the problems that we're dealing with pretty much remain the same. I didn't read anything and say, 'oh, well, that['s all changed.' Commissioner John Bortz gave his views of the completed study. 'I've had the opportunity to read the reports that were presented by Gary Esolen's PLACES,' Bortz said. 'They outline a number of initiatives that have been a matter of public discussion for some time. They add further credibility to ongoing projects the county is involved in. Specifically, I'm encouraged by the acknowledgment of the study asserting that we need better communications with the Allegheny National Forest. I think some progress has been made in that area; however, we need to answer the question of county/AFN invovlement with an exclamation point. We need to be definitive, decisive and goal-oriented with that relationship.'
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