Carving up the Chamber Carcass The Greater Pensacola Chamber has been wounded by the recent bad publicity surrounding its executive committee’s decision to not rehire CEO Jim Hizer; the missing, and later found, BP gift cards; the state attorney’s finding that the organization needs to operate under Florida Sunshine and open records laws; and a tourism television spot that some locals believe was too expensive.
The chamber isn’t quite dead, but the buzzards are circling and waiting to carve off for themselves the millions of tax dollars that the City of Pensacola and Escambia County give the organization for economic development and tourism.
Escambia County Destination Marketing Organization, a group of hotel owners who collect for the city and county the tourism tax from guests at their facilities, wants control over those tax dollars. They have lobbied the county commissioners for months, bad-mouthed the chamber and are seeking to create an “independent” authority to govern the area’s tourism marketing.
Why not? The more bed tax dollars that they can spend on marketing, the less they have to spend on advertising, meaning more profits for their businesses.
The next piece to be carved out will be economic development. Vision 2015 and the county commission will, I predict, also ask to be independent of the chamber. As long as any economic development authority accepts tax dollars, it will remain under the Sunshine laws. However, an independent authority can fund more junkets for Commissioner Gene Valentino to France, Germany and Panama.
Then we have groups in the African-American community seeking tax dollars. The resurrected Gulf Coast African-American Chamber of Commerce and its president, Admiral Leroy, want subsidies to operate and tourism funds to promote tourism to minorities. George Hawthorne, CEO of Diversity Program Advisors, wants funds for his Escambia Small/Minority Business Development Program.
Once these areas are sliced away from the Pensacola chamber, it will be left with armed services and membership services. Retention of our military bases, commands and beloved Blue Angels is too important to leave in the hands of a decimated business organization. Military relationships will have to be farmed out to some independent group that keeps a “laser focus”—a phrase coined by the hotel group—on keeping Pensacola a Navy town.
Left with only ribbon-cuttings, Gopher breakfasts and Leadership Pensacola, the once great chamber might break up further into a confederacy of small chambers—Downtown Pensacola, Warrington, Molino, Cordova Park, Myrtle Grove, etc.
Far-fetched? Not really.