Fort Payne sees increase in tourism

The Fort Payne City Council heard from members of the DeKalb Tourism Board as they gave updates on recent tourism numbers released by the Alabama Department of Revenue.

John Dersham, Randy Grider and Darlene Rotch each addressed the council concerning the tourism office’s success and its need for continued support of local governments.

“Our primary focus has been to utilize the money that has been appropriated by you as a city and the state and by the county commission, to use those dollars to create an environment where we can grow the numbers of visitors that come into DeKalb County and Fort Payne,” Dersham, president of DeKalb Tourism, said.

They actively reach out to people that have never visited DeKalb County before, because it is second in the state for return visitors, after the beach, he said.

His staff targets specific zip codes from previous visitors, along with certain age groups and demographics to reach people in other areas of the southeast and country. To do this, Dersham said the tourism office has utilized radio, television, social media, online banner ads and travel brochures.

“We have one of the most popular websites in the state, www.lookoutmountain.com, and that website is seen by more people than any other tourism website, except for the state’s, [https://alabama.travel/],” he said.

Last year, tourists spent $89,692,842, and that number only includes visitors that stayed at least one night in DeKalb County, he said.

Local lodging saw an increase from 58 percent occupancy to 72 percent over the last three years, which includes hotels, cabins, campgrounds and Bed and Breakfasts. The summer occupancy is at 95 percent and the fall is at 85 to 90 percent, he said.

Right now, the average visitor is between the ages of 45 and 75, college educated and has a family income of approximately $100,000. It’s the tourism office’s goal to reach younger ages and various demographics in the future.

Whitehall Lane

The council discussed whether or not they should move forward with placing weight limits on Whitehall Lane, a road that has been in much debate with residents the last few months.

At the May 18 council meeting, concerned residents spoke to the council about dump trucks taking hundreds of loads of chert from a property nearby. The heightened traffic caused an immense amount of constant dust, damage to the road and safety issues with the amount of trucks and their rate of speed, resident Frankie Green said in the meeting in May.

On Tuesday, City Clerk Andy Parker brought up the discussion with Public Works Director Tim Williams. The road department was at the road in question on Tuesday morning but couldn’t continue to work due to the amount of traffic on the lane.

“I think we need to get together and maybe we have a work session once this traffic dies down and get the property owner to sit down, and I think maybe we can come to an understanding on that,” Councilman Wade Hill said.

Parker asked Williams if the road can withstand the amount of traffic that’s currently on it.

“It probably could, the problem right now there’s just so many of them but under a normal operation, it probably wouldn’t be like this,” Williams said. “Right now, that road’s not made for that kind of traffic.”

Hill said the council needs to come to speak with all involved before trying to repair the lane.

“There’s a lot of work to be done there to get the road up to that standard, but we don’t need to build a new road, then destroy it,” he said. “We’re going to have to have a concerted effort there. I think we can come to some kind of conclusion, but we need to sit down and talk to all the parties involved.”

The council agreed to meet with the respective parties to discuss the traffic and eventually look at weight limits on the lane.

The council also:

• adopted Resolution 2019-31, authorizing an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for resurfacing Jordan Road S.W. for the Valley Joist expansion project.

• adopted Resolution 2019-33, accepted the lowest qualified bid for the public works building for $319,200.

• approved the addition of a new street light at the playground in the Alabama Walking Park.

• authorized bids for asphalt for the resurfacing of Jordan Lane S.W.

• discussed changes to the rules at Glenwood Cemetery and tabled the discussion until the next meeting.

• accepted the recommendations of David Beddingfield, Bill Mitchell and Walter Watson to the Board of Equalization, with four-year terms beginning October 1.

The next meeting is scheduled for August 20.

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