Writer / Joyce Long Photographer / Ron Stiemert
First Fridays? If you’re an Indy connoisseur, you know this means food trucks, festivals and art exhibits. First Wednesdays? This may be news to you. The Johnson County Convention, Visitors and Tourism commission (CVT) meets monthly at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday in the courthouse’s West Annex in Franklin. These are open to the public.
The appointed nine-member commission has one goal – to promote Johnson County as a destination. Beginning in 2017, they will have revenue from the county’s 2016 Innkeeper Tax to facilitate that initiative. Since January 2016, the board has researched and invited representatives from other counties to share how they use their funds.
Johnson County’s CVT commission has consulted with Rachel Ackley, Shelby County’s Executive Director of Tourism, and Jaime Bohler Smith, Executive Director for the Hendricks County Tourism Commission. Ackley’s presentation focused on marketing events that draw visitors and staffing Shelby County’s Visitor Center. Smith’s
presentation explained Hendricks County’s allocation of tax revenue and their organizational structure.
“It’s a super time to be Johnson County,” said Smith, noting our county is the third most visited metro destination in Central Indiana. According to Smith, Hendricks County has 5,000 jobs supported by
tourism. “What tourism brings to a community is that little bit extra, that 10 percent, which extends the county’s business profit margin.”
Anticipating 2017 The State of Indiana’s Department of Revenue report ( January 1, 2016) indicates 75 of the state’s 92 counties have imposed the Innkeeper Tax. Those taxed are businesses, such as hotels, cabins, banquet halls, campsites, trailer parks and college residence halls that rent for periods less than 30 days. For example, Smith explained Airbnb, a worldwide accommodations company headquartered in San Francisco, is gaining momentum in Indiana. Hendricks County now has 26 Airbnb properties that each generates between $100-$1,000 in annual taxes. According to Wikipedia, “Airbnb is an online marketplace that enables people to list, find, then rent vacation homes for a processing fee. It has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries.”
Johnson County currently has over 240 Airbnb rentals listed, including 115 in Greenwood, 68 in Bargersville, 15 in Franklin, 11 in Whiteland and five in Edinburgh. Unincorporated areas feature 28 listings. (airbnb.com) To research and propose Johnson County’s CVT 2017 budget, the commission appointed a finance committee consisting of Michael Neal, Greenwood resident and director of external operations and advance at vice president-elect Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s Office; Cynthia Williams, manager of Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurant; Megan Bowman, superintendent of Johnson County Parks; and Christian Maslowski, president and chief executive operating officer of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers appointed Neal, Williams and Maslowski to the county’s CVT. At-large Johnson County Councilman Brian Walker also consulted with the finance committee in developing the 2017 budget of nearly $500,000.
County commissioners appointed Bowman who also serves on the bureau’s research committee along with Janice Bullman, executive director of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce; Laura Richardson, co-owner of Mallow Run Winery and the Sycamore; and Kim Smith, owner of Ashley-Drake Historic Inn in Franklin. Other CVT members appointed by the county commissioners are Sarah Brown, owner of The Apple Works Orchard, and Nathan Huelsebusch, owner of Taxman Brewing Company. 2017 and Beyond
In July, the commission finalized and approved its 2017 budget. Recently, the CVT decided to hire an executive director and a marketing firm. Board President Michael Neal is also excited about Johnson County leveraging its proximity to Indianapolis. “We get a lot of overflow from Indianapolis, especially during the Indy 500. We want to develop our own driver to bring tourists here.” Bullman noted, “We have more tourists and amenities than people realize. So many of our towns and cities have festivals. In Johnson County, you can go to an event every weekend. Plus, Greenwood has the Splash Park and Freedom Springs while Franklin has the Historic Artcraft Theatre and Franklin College.”
CVT commission members Bullman and Bowman also serve with Aspire Johnson County, an initiative of Johnson County Development Corporation (JCDC). More than 100 community volunteers focus on making our county a destination to live, work and play. Aspire Johnson County’s Placemaking Team helped the county form the CVT commission in 2016 and works to identify and promote the county’s brand.
“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” said Bullman, who also mentioned Journey Johnson County as a resource identifying the county’s communities and their amenities. For Johnson County to become a destination, residents need to be informed and involved. Johnson County’s CVT commission welcomes county residents to its first Wednesday monthly meetings.