Visitor Bureau Proposal Stirs Hopes, Debate in Inglewood

Times Staff Writer

A Chamber of Commerce proposal to create a visitors bureau to enhance Inglewood's image and attract conferences and investment has raised hopes--and a few disagreements.

The main point of debate is whether the city should contribute money to the effort before or after it proves successful. Some also say the chamber needs a more specific plan that includes a way to provide what the city still needs as well as suggestions on how to promote what it already has.

But the fact that the concept, proposed in June, is being discussed underscores a desire to capitalize on the city's increasingly robust economy and sense of potential. Whether or not they think a visitors bureau is the answer, political and business leaders expressed interest in stepping up efforts to promote the city both to outsiders and to residents.

'Jewel to Be Discovered'

"Inglewood is a jewel waiting to be discovered," said Jack Moyer, president of the Inglewood/Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.

Moyer and chamber Executive Director Roger Scott asked the City Council in June to allocate $300,000 of a projected total of $1 million in hotel-motel tax revenues to help create a visitors and conference bureau that would promote Inglewood drawing cards such as the Forum, the Hollywood Park race track and the city's proximity to Los Angeles International Airport.

They said the bureau would cement a government-business partnership needed to push forward long-discussed projects such as a Sports Walk of Fame modeled after Hollywood's Walk of Fame and an international market area of shops and restaurants on Market Street intended to draw visitors, shoppers and internationally oriented businesses.

The admittedly ambitious proposal got a mixed reaction. The council did not grant the request for funding, but council members Anthony Scardenzan and Daniel Tabor held discussions with Chamber of Commerce and city officials.

Mayor Edward Vincent spoke favorably of the concept in a recent interview.

"The climate is right," Vincent said, pointing out that the National Conference of Black Mayors held its first meeting in Inglewood recently at the Airport Park Hotel. "We've got the facilities, the location and the resources. We need to sit down with the chamber and discuss it."

Vincent, fellow council members and city officials feel the time is ripe to publicize Inglewood. As City Manager Paul Eckles pointed out, construction in office buildings, housing and light industry abounds. Assistant City Manager Lew Pond said the total value of construction in the city for 1987 stood at about $75 million. It was $55 million in 1986 and $32 million in 1983.

That includes middle- and upper-income condominium projects such as the recently completed Carlton Square development next to the Forum and a 150-unit luxury condo complex that the Sand Dollar Development Co. of Orange County plans to build near Carlton Square, with units to sell for "$200,000 plus," Pond said.

The increased willingness of upper-income buyers to consider Inglewood shows that the city's image, which residents have complained is undeservedly negative, is improving.

"We've made a great deal of progress," Eckles said. As for the city's downtown, he said, "it's not Rodeo Drive, but it's getting better. Inglewood is increasingly known as a wonderful place to live and work."

Questions Remain

But does the city have enough facilities, attractions and resources for a visitors bureau to promote, and should the city invest in the proposal? Those questions continue to divide the chamber and city officials, even those who most support the concept.

"The chamber is asking for a partnership," Councilman Scardenzan said. "There are a lot of things we can do with business and government working together for the future of the city. It could be a tool to bring some new ideas, bring people into Inglewood and retain Inglewood people who shop in Fox Hills or on Hawthorne Boulevard. I don't see why something can't be worked out."

Scardenzan, who is especially interested in using Inglewood's proximity to the airport to attract international banks and business, said the city should contribute at least part of the $300,000 the chamber wants. But he said the idea for the visitors bureau needs work.

Councilman Tabor agreed.

"I don't have the confidence at this point in the development of the concept to support putting any money into it," he said. "The chamber has to come up with some concrete plans. They need to inventory and articulate what attractions we have, what facilities are available. The city's not in the business of business; the chamber's in the business of business."

No Position

Councilwoman Ann Wilk, who was elected in June, said she knew about the proposal but thought it needed more work. Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas, also elected in June, said he did not have enough information to take a position.

Scott, the former director of a conference and visitors bureau in Santa Barbara, said the proposal is ready to go.

Before the chamber can approach the Forum, Hollywood Park, local hotels and investors about a promotional campaign and development of the Sports Walk and the international market, he said, the city must show its commitment by allocating money.

"Nothing can occur without funding," he said, saying the money would go to office space, employees and promotional materials. "We can't go to people until we can say the city is behind us."

Tabor and Eckles said a shortage of major hotels in Inglewood is a drawback to the promotional scheme. The city's only large hotel is the Airport Park, which has 14,000 square feet of banquet facilities and accommodates conferences of up to 1,000 participants, said managing director Dan Jones, who welcomed the proposed visitors bureau.

The rest of the city's hotels are small or medium-sized, such as the Days Inn or Best Western that lack space for large meetings.

"The driving force behind a visitors/conference bureau is hotel rooms," Eckles said. "Most of the hotels in the (airport) area are in Los Angeles."

Eckles said an area-wide effort involving participation and funding by businesses and governments throughout the airport area might be more appropriate.

"We stand ready to cooperate fully," he said. "We'd like a plan that has some flesh."

The fundamental area of disagreement--whether a visitors/conference bureau should get city funding before or after it proves viable--will likely be discussed in coming months, since both Vincent and Moyer said they hope to meet soon.

Tabor said the issue reflects a wider need for government and business to form a plan to promote and develop the city.

"Right now, everyone is promoting the city on their own, in an uncoordinated way," he said. "We need a coordinated effort to sell Inglewood, but first we have to sit down and decide what we are selling."

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