By Dan Hust
FERNDALE Idealistic dreams and practical goals shared the stage Monday night in Ferndale.
Funded by the Gerry Foundation and overseen by the new Sullivan County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Community Planning Committee held its first “Mid-Term Report” at the CVI Building.
“We are nearly 50 individuals strong and growing,” noted EDC Board Chair Darlene Fedun.
The committee is actually a set of four subcommittees: Planning, Hotel Development, Education and Training, and Tourism and Marketing.
County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon explained that the Planning Subcommittee is focused on providing support and research to the other three, with a plan to turn all the recommendations into a “white paper” report.
The Planning group, however, did identify two of its own initiatives: banking land (governments holding on to foreclosed properties for special purposes) and developing existing and often-unused theatre/performance spaces.
Fedun explained that the Hotel Development Subcommittee wants to increase lodging in the county, possibly through incentives and a location database that includes a rating system.
In particular, the subcommittee is identifying partially completed or otherwise unoccupied facilities (i.e., Dunbar Towers in Monticello and Bella Lago in White Lake) that could be of interest to hotel developers.
Subcommittee Co-Chair Carol Malek noted that several hotels in Monticello and Liberty are used for emergency housing rather than lodging, and her group wants to find alternatives to such.
A tourism summit and a third-party study are also possibilities.
The Education and Training Subcommittee reported that the county needs to market as much to its residents as its visitors.
“There are some people who think of Jeffersonville [as] out of the state,” Subcommittee Co-Chair Laura Quigley related.
To that end, an “ambassadors” program and reaching out to local PTAs and other organizations are under consideration.
Better marketing of in-county events to residents is not the group’s only goal, however. They also want to more effectively train the workforce in customer service and entrepreneurship.
The group also envisions a farm-to-school-to-work-to-community program to teach young people and adults about the reliance of one sector of the local economy upon another.
Tourism and Marketing Subcommittee Co-Chair Roberta Byron-Lockwood said her group “found we had far more strengths than weaknesses” in the county.
“We want to expand the visitation that’s our bottom line,” she added.
Hosting “big events” in the winter and spring could boost the traditionally slow seasons in Sullivan County, she explained, as could rebranding the county’s image in a unified way to emphasize those aforementioned strengths.
The subcommittee has actually already created a “Colours and Culture” weekend for October to highlight the area’s fall foliage and events through the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA).
Byron-Lockwood, who heads the SCVA, said her association is negotiating with a public relations expert to market the county more, and the subcommittee is compiling a list of accomplished natives.
After the various presentations, the audience comprised of the subcommittee members provided further ideas, from trolley buses to activities focused on grandparents/grandchildren to assessing the various building requirements in each township to creating “active adult” senior housing.
The subcommittees are an outgrowth of a visit Dr. Peter Tarlow made to the county earlier this year. Tarlow is a recognized expert on tourism and security, and he’ll be given the results of the committee’s work to review.
Tarlow himself is planning a return trip to Sullivan County in November, starting with a planned Agriculture Summit at the Villa Roma in Callicoon on November 28.
Around that same time, the subcommittees will reconvene to discuss further progress and ideas.
“It’s not over,” Aragon promised. “We still have a lot of work to do.”