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Friday November 28th 2014

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Future of Tourism on Table, or Robinson Rues Rubes


The Tourist Development Council has offered up some late-summer drama heading into the playoff season. It should make for interesting conversation when the group meets this afternoon.

“I’m not really sure what’s going to happen with today’s meeting,” said Escambia County Commissioner and TDC member Grover Robinson IV.

It’s recently come to light that the Council’s head, Denis McKinnon, along with the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce VP of Tourism Ed Schroeder and some members of the business community have been in discussions to remove tourism marketing from the Chamber’s charge.

Schroeder has stepped down at the behest of Chamber CEO Jim Hizer, who was in the dark about the discussions. There’s been calls for McKinnon to do the same. And then there’s the issue of who’s going to control the area’s tourism marketing — and the related dollars.

“There’s some anxiety because there’s some changes that are about to occur,” Robinson said.

The Commissioner said he thought the Council was going to take up the issue of restructuring during the fall months. A series of recently released emails, however, have pushed the issue into the light of September. At worst, there are accusations of Sunshine Law violations, at best there is wounded pride sulking about town.

“We will continue to be rubes if we let personalities trump what should be success,” Robinson said. “Forget the personalities. They could change overnight. None of us live forever.”

The TDC board member would not weigh in on McKinnon’s future.

“That’s up to Denis to figure out what he’s going to do,” Robinson said.

Commissioner Robinson — also playing into the behind-the-scenes drama, with Perdido Key Chamber Chairwoman Alison Davenport telling the Pensacola News Journal that he said the “TDC was going away” and she “better get used to it”; something he denies — did offer his thoughts on Schroeder’s departure. By all accounts, the tourism VP oversaw a successful run despite a weak economy and BP’s 2010 oil spill.

“Ed had done an awful lot of good for tourism in Escambia County,” Robinson said. “Some of our best years. We’ve lost something.”

Hizer appointed Terry Scruggs, a local with a marketing background, to replace Schroeder on an interim basis. Robinson said he knew Scruggs. Said he liked Scruggs. But couldn’t expect the same results.

“Terry is not an Ed Schroeder,” the Commissioner said.

Pensacola City Council member and fellow TDC board member P.C. Wu said that “on a personal level” he was “sad to see him go.”

“I’ve always liked Ed Schroeder,” the TDC board member said. “It wasn’t my decision to make.”

As to the rest of everything else, Wu said he was still digesting it all. The revelations are fresh.

“It’s news to me,” Wu said Tuesday, reporting that he had learned about the private talks along with the general public. “ — when I read it in the paper.”

The Councilman hoped to have a better grasp on the landscape after the Council met.

“It’d be best to talk with me after the meeting,” Wu said.

Robinson said he hoped that TDC members would approach today’s meeting with “an open mind and an open heart.” To be sure, the Council has a lot to discuss.

“There’s a lot of things out there,” Robinson said. “ — it’s an incredibly scary thing when change is happening.”

The TDC meets this afternoon at 5 p.m. at the Pensacola Civic Center.