Tourism means millions of dollars for Rome and Floyd County.
Visitors to the city leave behind sales tax receipts, and hotel and motel tax receipts, and they provide a steady source of revenue for restaurants and other commercial establishments across the county. A report of activity indicates tourism generated more than $19.2 million for the community.
That’s not a trickle-down or ripple-through the economy figure but actual dollars spent. It also reflects more than $571,000 in local taxes generated by the industry.
The COVID-19 public health emergency all but shut down tourism for the past month, but it did provide an opportunity for the Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism to undertake major renovations to its newest property — the Rome Area History Center at 305 Broad St.
Tourism Executive Director Lisa Smith has freely admitted she doesn’t know a whole lot about running a museum, but she does have a solid foundation in marketing the community and believes the history center can be operated very successfully as a business entity.
Smith and the history center staff have used the downtime to completely renovate the interior of the building and lay out plans to better portray the history of Rome from pre-Civil War through Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution and two world wars right up to modern times.
While the remodeled history center is currently slated to reopen to the public during the first week of May, a lot of the exhibits that are being redesigned won’t be completed until some time early this fall.
Selena Tilly, one of Rome’s leading historians, has helped create a blueprint that will flow visitors through the building from the moment they walk in the front door.
The new pilgrimage through the history center will take visitors through exhibits of early Rome, then through the Civil War period, followed by an area related to Rome’s river history.
The next exhibits will focus on the world war efforts and include special areas related to Battey Hospital and Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. There also will be an area set aside to look at the importance of early rail transportation.
Another area will be dedicated to agriculture, then a section devoted to First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson.
The next section will focus on education, followed by an area devoted to the struggle for Civil Rights. Tilly said she hopes to re-create the old G.C. Murphy lunch counter where a famous sit-in occurred. At the side of that exhibit there will be a re-creation of the old city jail cell, where participants of the sit-in were packed.
A mock-up of the Opera Alley Arch will lead to an exhibit focused on entertainment, and local industry will have its own section. From there, visitors will move to an area earmarked for special traveling exhibits that will be changed out frequently.
Smith said the focus of the history center will be on how events have impacted Rome and how our city has impacted historical events.
“We will have permanent exhibits, but they will be freshened up every so often,” Tilly said. “We’ll always have a transportation exhibit; we’ll always have a war exhibit. We’ll have your basics.”
Those exhibits will evolve over time, with new pieces brought in to help tell each story better.
Tilly said technology will also be a big piece of the new exhibit layout.
“There will be interaction through motion sensors. There will be a lot of audio-visual devices and QR codes that can be used on different exhibits,” she said. “You can actually scan the code with your phone and hear or listen to the story.”
A lot of the old traditional display cases will become a thing of the past as the office of tourism tries to bring the history center more in line with current standards.
However, the COVID-19 health emergency and anticipated loss of revenue from hotel and motel taxes have forced Smith to tweak some of her budget line items.
“We have reduced some costs associated with utilities,” Smith said. “Also, some of our travel has been postponed or canceled for conferences, so that’s also a reduction.”
The tourism office is not cutting back on its advertising budget or bidding funds because Smith believes that it’s more important than ever to let potential visitors know that Rome is open for business.
“We are making sure that we are selling all of the assets this community has to offer,” Smith said.
She is planning a number of unique promotions and wants the history center to be a place that people will come back to frequently.
Smith said the history center will be conducting a membership and corporate support drive beginning May 1. All of the funds generated will be spent solely on programming and exhibits. All of the expenses related to staffing and maintenance of the building will be absorbed through the tourism office’s budget, which is funded by hotel and motel taxes.
When the newly remodeled history center reopens, admission will still be free. Tilly said, though, that once all of the building infrastructure and technological upgrades have been completed, the policy will be reviewed.