TV show helps people discover Evansville

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August 29, 2010
— Evansville's investment in promoting itself is paying off, city officials said.

The city is spending $36,000 in a promotional package through Discover Wisconsin, and the Chamber of Commerce is requesting an additional $20,000 for economic development.

Visitors have cited the Discover Wisconsin TV show as a reason for their trip, city officials said, and about a dozen reservations connected with the show have been made at the city's only hotel, Cobblestone Inn and Suites, owner Brad Moellenberndt said.

After the June premier of the TV show, the chamber saw a "definite uptick" in inquiries about visiting or moving to Evansville, said Jackie Liebel, director of the Evansville Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

"It was definitely exciting for the town," said Daun Fugate, owner of Real Coffee at Daun on Main Street.

Summer visitors citing the show have come from Janesville and around the Midwest, officials say.

While the city continues its three-year marketing package with Discovery Mediaworks, the chamber is trying to move economic development efforts forward by proposing a partnership with the city.

Chamber proposal

Since the city held a summit in 2008, much discussion and planning has been done for economic development, but the plan has been kind of "stagnant," said Bridgit Larsen, special projects coordinator for the chamber.

That's why the chamber is requesting $20,000 from the city next year for economic development, she said.

A volunteer committee, Council of Evansville Economic Development, formed after the city approved an economic development plan, but the committee decided Monday, Aug. 16, that the chamber should be the lead agency for economic development, Larsen said.

The city's economic development committee also agreed to include the chamber's $20,000 funding request in its budget requests, she said.

The chamber has some ideas how the money should be used, but it would be up to the city to agree, she said. Ideas include creating a commercial and industrial property listing, a clearer explanation and maps of TIF districts and creating a stronger economic development presence online.

It's too soon to tell if city funding will be available, Mayor Sandy Decker said.

"It's going to be a very tight budget year," she said.

The city is looking at ways to stretch and save dollars, she said.

Larsen said the chamber is "very optimistic." Given her research, she thinks the city's budget is in decent shape given the recession.

"I think there are a lot of ways that the funding could be generated," she said, noting the use of tax incremental financing districts. "We have hope … this would be money spent in a good way since nothing has transpired in the name of economic development."

Discovery Mediaworks

The city is spending $36,000 on the marketing package that included the production of the "Discover Wisconsin" episode, radio programming, website features, trade shows and advertising.

The TV show reaches 8.1 million homes in seven states. While the show is the most visible, the first of five radio ads will air next month just before the city's Harvest Windmill Festival, Decker said.

The funding comes from the city's hotel tax, which is intended to be spent on marketing and tourism.

Decker said one of the interesting responses she's heard came from visitors from Oregon, just 12 miles to the north. They saw the show and said, "We never thought about coming to Evansville," Decker said.

Residents of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa have made reservations at the hotel, Moellenberndt said. Some coffee shop visitors have come from Janesville and commented on how they never realized all that Evansville had to offer, Fugate said.

In his 14 years in the hotel business, Moellenberndt said he's found that people from big cities like to come to the small towns to get away from the hustle and bustle.

What is there to do in Evansville?

City officials are hoping to boost Evansville's profile around the area and Midwest as a destination, in part through a marketing package that included a Discover Wisconsin show about Evansville. The city of about 5,000 is located in western Rock County, just south of Madison and west of Janesville on Highway 14.

Officials are promoting Evansville's parks, historic district, art galleries and other downtown shops and restaurants.

"What I have heard is always people are surprised by the beautiful architecture in our community and a number of people have commented to the shopkeepers about how beautiful our downtown is—they're very surprised," Mayor Sandy Decker said.

A visit could include a stop at Lake Leota Park, where the lake recently was dredged and now is being stocked with fish. The lake should be ready for fishing next year, Decker said.

The city also features a golf course, an antique mall and art galleries downtown, a coffee shop and a new local history museum. Just a few miles away are Gibbs Lake and Magnolia Bluff county parks.

The self-guided historic walking tour also is popular, said Jackie Liebel, executive director of the Evansville Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

The Harvest Windmill Festival on Sept. 10-12 is the city's next big festival.

So why visit Evansville instead of other cities such as New Glarus, Stoughton or Madison?

Liebel said Evansville is a small city that's easy to get around and see the sights. The historic walking tour, for example, can be done in a fairly short amount of time, she said.

"It's appealing to people who are passing through for half a day," she said.

Evansville also is a good halfway stopping place for people headed to Wisconsin Dells, Chicago or Milwaukee, she said.

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