Tourism board discusses pros and cons of a Quonset ferry
The Tourism Council considered the merits of a recently proposed new ferry run from Quonset, and discussion generated on the issue occupied most of its time at the Aug. 14 meeting. Board member Steve Filippi raised the question of whether or not the board wished to support the proposal.
“I don’t know whether we should take a position on it, or think about it. Are people for it or against it,” he said.
President Zena Clark said, “We don’t know enough about it. It’s all very vague.” Filippi replied the new ferry line “must get PUC [Public Utilities Commission] permission first.” He added, “I think we’re locked into a monopoly right now. I’m definitely for another ferry.”
Logan Mott Chase thought it was “a bit premature to take a position before we know more. I think we should keep it on our radar, but it’s a little too early to take a position.” John Cullen said, “When the question came up, I wondered whether the infrastructure could handle so many more people. But perhaps there won’t be new people — just some of those who won’t have to drive as far.”
By infrastructure he was referring to bathrooms and garbage cans, adding, “How can we handle any more people when I don’t think we do enough right now?” As to the trash cans, he pointed out, “They’re overloaded and they smell.”
He believed that it didn’t “seem like as a community we’re doing enough to cater to people’s needs now. We need to decide how to make the experience of coming here manageable for everyone.” However, as a businessman, he also felt that “competition is healthy, and the [possibility of a Quonset] ferry helps us open the dialogue.”
He added, “We need to look at what we’re not doing — like the beach pavilion which wasn’t ready until late June.”
Brad Marthens said he agreed with both Chase and Cullen: “We don’t know enough and with each ferry proposal these issues come up.”
Shirley Kessler said, “We keep campaigning to bring more people to the island, and people are coming and asking, ‘What happened to the island? What happened to the bicycle police?’ To me the town is out of control — with the traffic situation — it’s chaos!”
“As a businessman, I need more people, and I say let’s find a way to make it manageable. Bring it on: we want more people. My rent is still due in January, February and March,” Cullen said.
Filippi felt the board had “a responsibility to get as many people here as we can. Interstate has a monopoly and increased our freight costs 45 percent. And to me, Interstate isn’t giving all the service we need. For example, they should extend the Newport ferry schedule so that visitors can stay here for dinner, rather than leave at five and eat in Newport.” The schedule should favor the island, he felt.
Chase countered, “At this stage of the game, I don’t think it’s the role of Tourism Council to favor one business over the other.” Willi explained that the PUC hearing was set for Aug. 21 at which time the agency would set up a procedural schedule.
Filippi said, “I think we should flex our muscles and shouldn’t feel we can’t advocate for our self-interests.”
Block Island Chamber Executive Director Kathy Szabo said, “Speaking for myself, I think as a Tourism Council you should support any way of bringing more people to the island. I think you should support the ferry.”
Executive Director Jessica Willi reported that the hotel tax totals for the end of May this year were “up from the previous May .
Willi suggested that at the upcoming joint Chamber of Commerce/Tourism Council meeting, the groups should address the 10 of the most important questions facing businesses on the island. To that end, a subcommittee had been formed, she said, comprised of herself, Frank DiBiase, Fraser Lang, Megan Moran, Lucinda Morrison and Kathy Szabo.
The idea would be not only to write down a list of issues, but to propose solutions, Willi said. Filippi added, “Be a doctor, not a patient.”
In terms of advertising and marketing, Willi noted the council was working with “The Buddy Cianci [radio]Show.” Willi said that Cianci was very interested in coming here to broadcast from the island. While the Cianci visit may not pan out, Willi said, “Starting the end of August, we’ll have two weeks of ‘live reads’ on his show,” by which she meant that Cianci would read the ads directly from an approved script.
Willi also distributed a list documenting activities launched during the fiscal year in review (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013). Among many listed, Willi highlighted taking ad space in all kinds of publications and active travel sites; attending a number of trade shows, developing the Block Island Magazine, extensive outreach through social media as well as a number of public service projects the group funded.
The next two meetings are scheduled for Sept. 10 and 24, both at 9 a.m. A date for the joint Chamber/Tourism meeting is yet to be announced.