From Musictree to tournaments, Alderman French responds

Aldermen Ryan French, left, and Bill Nickels

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Manchester Alderman Bill Nickels recently questioned some of the choices of the Manchester Tourism and Community Development Commission. In a recent email to members of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA), Nickels asked about the involvement of Alderman Ryan French, who served on the tourism commission, with Musictree Festival and with the basketball tournaments while serving on the tourism commission.

“I think about the correlation between Bonnaroo, Musictree and tourism commission,” Nickels said.

Nickels also asked about the connection between “tourism and tournaments and the (Manchester City recreation) center.”

French answers accusations about tourism committee

“All these tentacles seem intertwined into every aspect of community and no (oversight) that I can see,” Nickels said.

Nickels further claims that Tourism replies come packed with “only obfuscations and defensive dodges with vaguely verbose replies.”

French answers accusations about tourism committee

Nickels resigned from the tourism commission about three months ago. French, who also served on the commission until recently, said he hasn’t done anything inappropriate.

For years, Musictree was “a community event,” before it became a business venture, according to French.

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At the time it was a community event, French was involved as a volunteer, while at the same time serving on the tourism commission. At that time, Musictree applied and received funds from the tourism commission, but Musictree was eligible for that, said French.

When it comes to basketball tournaments, French served as a coach, and funds are sent directly to the schools or recreation department, and not to a tournament director, private party, elected official or non-government entity, said French.  

Since French served on the tourism commission at that time, he was involved on the city side with scheduling and communication, he said.

“From my position within tourism, I helped with scheduling of events, communications between schools and the rec. department, and have likely called a hundred tournaments trying to get them to move their events to Manchester,” French said.

 

French’s response

According to musictreefestival.com, “the Musictree festival is the premier pre Bonnaroo welcoming concert in the heart of Manchester… (and) is designed to showcase regional and national artists to one of the most diverse crowds in the county.”

Musictree was created in 2012 as a community event designed to drive folks coming into town for Bonnaroo into local venues, said French.  

“While it was designed as a community event, operations were funded by sponsorships, not the city, not tourism,” French said.

“My role with Musictree as a community event was a volunteer. When we brought (it) back in 2017 as a private event, four friends took on the role of organizing it. The current effort to bring it back in 2021 has not officially been organized from an organizational standpoint, but my role will be involving and creating partnerships for the event.”

French added he has kept his involvement in Musictree “completely separate from any dealings with the city or tourism since it was brought back.”

Recruiting sports tournaments

Tourism has a developed policy for recruiting youth sports tournaments, according to French.

“The tourism commission will fund facility cost for tournaments if they meet a certain criteria: number of days, number of teams, number of games,” French said. “This applies to all sports: baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, golf and anything else.”

Funds are sent directly to the schools or recreation department, and not to a tournament director, private party, elected official or non-government entity, said French.

“I’ve never had a role within an organization that plans tournaments,” French said.

“I volunteered as a youth basketball from 2003-2018 and coached for Lynchburg Jr. Pro, Hillsboro Elementary School, the Storm, and the Tide. I’ve coached, directed, assistant coached, ran clinics, just about anything needed.

“My involvement has always been from the coaching side of things, submitting local schedule request, asking other teams to sign up, working concessions when available (some tournaments allow local teams in host city to run concessions, some do not), and coaching teams.”

Since French served on the tourism commission at that time, he was involved with scheduling and communication, he said.

“From my position within tourism, I helped with scheduling of events, communications between schools and the rec. department, and have likely called a hundred tournaments trying to get them to move their events to Manchester,” French said.

Economic impact

Sport tournaments drive people into hotels and restaurants for several days at a time, said French.

“Providing free facilities for tournaments or recruiting tournaments is a standard practice,” French said. “In some communities additional funding to tournament operations is provided but has never been provided in Manchester.”

The tourism commission also partners with the Chamber of Commerce and Willowbrook Golf Course to pay for assistance with the TSSAA Golf State Championships, said French.

Tourism strategy aiming to bring visitors to town

“Around eight years ago, the tourism commission launched a strategy that involved evaluating tourism assets our community had, how we could better partner with events and assets, and what we could do to bring more visitors to town,” French said. “As part of that evaluation, youth sports and special events become two of the many focuses.”

At that time Manchester hosted less than five youth sports tournaments each year. Going into 2021, Manchester will host more than 30 youth sports events, he said

“This drives visitors into restaurants and hotels for days (and) has a major economic impact on our community,” French said.

“Manchester Tourism joined Play Tennessee and developed policy around recruiting tournaments. Recruiting events involved not only finding successful tournaments to be a part of, but also bridging the communication between the facilities (schools and recreation) and scheduling events efficiently to maximize the number of events the community could host.”

Manchester Tourism has also invested in city facilities and offsetting operational cost of facilities so that schools and the recreation department are not paying from their budgets for facilities to be open for events, added  French.

Manchester Tourism has invested into equipment, including reel mower for the recreation department, the irrigation system for the soccer complex, lighting for soccer complex, and temporary fencing for ball fields, according to French.

“All of these policies, actions, and investments were vetted through the city attorney and have been audited,” he said.

“When Musictree was launched as a community event, it participated in the local activity support marketing,” French said.

Local activity support marketing is a line item in the tourism budget and organizations have to apply for funds, according to French.  

“Once Musictree came back as a private event in 2017, the event no longer participated in the local activity support, although it would still qualify,” French said.

“(The local activity support marketing) has also supported things like entertainment for the July 4th concerts, the Manchester Music Series, the Chamber’s 2020 vision event, the Hospitality TN Blizzard Conference that brought tourism officials from across the state to Manchester, banners on light poles promoting things like Bonnaroo’s arrival, the TSSAA State Golf Championship, the Small Business Chamber Scholarships Program, the Manchester Christmas parade, among other events and activities as part of the strategy. Again, the policy requires funds be directly paid for specific efforts and marketing that are approved, and never to event organizers, or any individual.”

Tourism has had a role in bringing funds to county’s coffers, said French. 

“In 2009 Coffee County’s tax base absorbed right at $64 million in tourism-related expenditures, a number that grew by over $41 million in just 10 years to over $105 million in 2019,” he said. I understand that our Manchester Tourism Commission is not entirely responsible for these advances, but I am confident the efforts as commissioners, volunteers, and organizers certainly has made a difference.

“My role as an alderman, commission member, and volunteer organizing events and coordinating tournaments has been something I feel truly has helped make a difference.”

Bonnaroo has never been involved with anything related to tournaments or Musictree, said French.

The Municipal Technical Advisory Service describes a conflict of interest situation here. To learn more, visit MTAS’ website.

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