In 2000, the Conway City Council passed an ordinance creating an Advertising and Promotion Commission. That initial ordinance included a tax on hotel stays. In 2005, a tax on prepared food was added. The proceeds from that tax built the new baseball and softball parks. The Expo Center and new fairgrounds were financed with A&P tax collections. A&P taxes have “advertised and promoted” the city in a number of ways, and yes, the city even bought a Christmas tree with the money.
We can argue about the merit of any one single project. But what no one can dispute is that attracting visitors is now a major part of Conway’s economy. Consider this: In 2013 hotels and restaurants combined for more than $180 million in sales — approximately 11 percent of Conway’s retail economy. Less than a decade ago, who would’ve imagined Conway as a destination for travel dollars?
Simply put, visitors have sustained and grown our hotel and restaurant industry. Consider this weekend: More than 100 youth baseball teams are playing at City of Colleges and Conway Station Parks. Concurrently, more than 900 cheerleaders from Arkansas and Texas are competing at Sonshine Academy. This is on the heels of a 7A state basketball tournament that had to turn away spectators for a mid-afternoon game on a Monday. That’s one week in March. Every one of those events was directly supported by the A&P Commission.
Conway will host more than 40 baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball tournaments in 2014. This does not include tournaments hosted by our colleges and high schools. These are tournaments that choose a destination. There will be approximately 40 events at the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds, not counting our own County Fair. The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and other cultural amenities only add fuel to the fire.
Conway is well-served by its A&P tax. The proceeds have provided facilities and a means of promotion commensurate with our incredible location and amenities. Those things have worked together to create a new economy in Conway.