Although the current contract doesn’t expire until the end of March 2023, Visit Madison Inc. is seeking a decision by the Jefferson Board of Tourism on its new contract by the end of year.
No decision was made at Monday’s JCBT meeting when VMI Executive Director Andrew Forrester sought a nine-month contract from April to December 2023 with hopes returning to a calendar year scheduling for contracts.
In 2021, JCBT established an annual contract that ran from April to March and then renewed under that scheduling in 2022. An additional nine-month contract for 2023 would put VMI on a January to December contract as had been the case prior to 2021.
VMI is requesting $325,000 from JCBT for 2023, which funds 70% of its overall $460,000 budget. The request from JCBT is an 11% increase over this year’s $293,711 allocation for VMI.
VMI Board President Lucy Dattilo said VMI is making plans for 2023 to have a Main Street presence while expanding on the concept of bringing visitors to Jefferson County for all 365 days of year while providing additional support for all events and activities. “All the hard work from the past two years to reorganize, restructure and reimagine Visit Madison is working hand and hand with the renaissance Madison is experiencing,” Dattilo said. “This is benefitting all of Jefferson County. I am really proud of how far Visit Madison Inc. has come.”
Forrester would like for the contract to be on a calendar year because the current April-March arrangement “complicates” VMI operations. “Everybody else runs on the calendar year and from an accounting standpoint we’ve got a contract that runs onto a portion of our 2023 budget year and then we’ve got to switch to a different allocation to plan for, so it makes a lot more sense from our side of accounting, and it also lines up with what the city and county do” with their budgets.
Forrester said an earlier decision on the contract also impacts VMI’s decisions on staffing. For example, he said there is a marketing specialist position that has been vacant since mid-year that Forrester is waiting to fill until the contract is decided. “When I’m getting ready to hire somebody I want to be sure we’ve got a contract that’s going past March 31. If I am going to bring somebody else full-time on” VMI needs to be certain that funds are being provided to support that position.
VMI currently has three full-time staff members and four part-time, and Forrester would like to increase that to four full-time and five part-time. “I still want to get a marketing person” that can help Executive Marketing Director Sarah Prasil, Forrester said, noting he wants to be able to focus on doing what it will take to make Jefferson County a destination for 365 days a year, not just special events and weekends. “We’ve talked about things like group tours, working with walking tours, working with digital tours on apps” and much more that expand what VMI is doing to make the county more of a year-round destination.
Tourism Board Bember Jim Bartlett said that other than deciding whether to do a nine month contract or a 12 month contract, he doesn’t see that many differences between the JCBT board and VMI in terms of the contract. “I don’t think we’re far apart at all based on the discussion I’ve heard around here, and frankly I’d like to see us move forward sooner rather than later.”
Bartlett also said he personally “likes moving everything back” to a calendar year for the contract. “To me, it just makes a whole lot more sense” in dealing with one contract.
Commissioner David Bramer, who also serves as JCBT president, said the board will have more discussions on the contract at its Dec. 19 meeting. “We’ll see where we’re at and if we could be pretty close” to agreeing on the contract.
In other business:
• With more than $500,000 already collected this year through the county innkeepers tax, it appears the county is well on its way to surpassing last year’s record of $537,606.48. The balance in JCBT’s account was $871,198.79 prior to a claim totaling $76,310.25 from VMI for operations and marketing.
• Heard updates from Kara Schafer, treasurer of the Chautauqua committee; Ellie Troutman, organizer of Madison’s Wild West Rodeo; and Erin Kindle, coordinator the Madison Ribberfest & Blues Festival, on those events — all of which received funding from JCBT with Chautauqua and Ribberfest each receiving $40,000 while the rodeo received $25,000.
Troutman indicated that she will be seeking support again from JCBT for a 2023 rodeo, scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 22-23, but added there are also plans to make it a week-long event. “There will be more things leading up to it, and those are the things we will be looking to you as an investment partner,” said Troutman, noting she plans to make that request at the December meeting.
• A draft of a grant application for groups to submit to JCBT for consideration for funding was put together by board members Victoria Perry, Ron Bateman and Wendy Lawson, with plans to submit a final draft at the December meeting.
It took a lot of back-breaking work and several green thumbs, but what once was a blighted area home to deteriorating trailers is now a Hanover Community Garden.
The garden, located at 161 North Madison Avenue, was the idea of Hanover resident Barb Ford for the desire to do “something nice” with the land that is also good for the community. Now that the trailers have been demolished and cleared away, transformation has begun with some plantings already and plans for more in the spring.
Ford, a master gardener, said she was approached by town of Hanover officials to be involved in the effort. She agreed and has been a part of the committee organizing the garden and raising funds to make it self-sustaining.
Efforts are underway to raise $35,000 — about $33,500 of which has already been collected — to obtain an Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) grant requiring dollar for dollar matching funds through the IHCDA’s CreatlNg Places program. The deadline is 10 p.m. on Dec. 13 so the committee is currently making its final push to reach that goal by that deadline.
Some of the funds will provide operating expenses but others will go towards a fund at the Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County. Ford said the hope is that dividend payments from that fund will then pay for ongoing maintenance of the community garden.
“Over time that will help us to be sustainable” and provide most of what’s needed to maintain the community garden, Ford said. “We would have to do a plant sell, or something else that’s smaller to raise like $500 each year but it wouldn’t have to be any kind of huge fundraising like this I’m hoping ever again.”
Ford is actually one of three master gardeners involved in the project — the other two being Stacey Vester and Deanna Boscia — and some of the other volunteers involved include Greg Schneider, agriculture instructor at Ivy Tech Madison, and avid gardeners Katy Schneider, Debi Toth, Kelli Rohl and Misty and T.J. Jacobs.
“We have a great team,” Ford said, adding that between community donations and Boy Scout Troop 717 building a pollinator garden. “We’re having a lot of community involvement.”
And that’s the way it should be since the garden is by the community and for the community.
“We are hoping it becomes a place that makes community connections,” said Ford noting that one such event would be quarterly meetings for families around a bonfire. However, the first bonfire scheduled for October was canceled because a county-wide burn ban was in place at the time.
In addition to flowers and beautification, the garden will also be a place to promote sustainable sustenance. There are plans for food sustainability education and programs to help people learn how to harvest and preserve vegetables with food grown in the garden donated to local food pantries and the Salvation Army.
“We want to teach some of the basic things to know about growing,” Ford said, adding that residents will be able to rent out plots at the site with rental proceeds going directly back into the garden’s maintenance.
“We’re still kind of dreaming what we could do,” she said.
There are also plans for a children’s area to be developed in the future. “We have a rain barrel where kids can get water pails” to help water the plants, she said.
The garden will also have sculpture in memory of Alene Cunningham, a one-time owner of the property, named “Love Birds” by Dale Rogers, the same artist doing the sculpture for the Sunrise Crossing development on Madison’s hilltop and the sculpture next to the Community Foundation building in downtown Madison.
Ford said the Community Foundation has purchased a storage building and a mower for the garden, and is beginning to purchase gardening tools. There are plans for wheelchair accessible beds at the front of the garden, benches that can be sat on and used to do gardening and a pavilion at the center.
She expressed appreciation to Hanover town officials for “how supportive they’ve been through the whole process. They’ve helped us to get the electricity disconnected, the gas disconnected and they have been just so supportive in offering advice. They’ve helped us with mowing.
“We’ve had just so much community support and so much community involvement it’s been really surprising that many people have been interested in a project that I just didn’t know there was that much support for,” she said.
Tax deductible donations to the garden can be given at https://www.patronicity.com/project/hanover_community_garden#!/ or by check to “Hanover Community Garden” mailed or dropped off to German American Bank, 10 Medical Plaza, Hanover, Indiana, 47243.
The Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes has been a Madison tradition and tourist attraction for 40 years and and the latest installment of the popular holiday event begins this weekend — the last weekend of November — and the first weekend in December.
“Going over two weekends it draws in a lot of people,” said Erin Kindle, the event’s coordinator for the second consecutive year. “It helps out local businesses by getting people to Madison shopping for the holidays. All of the shops on Main Street are decorated for the holiday, and people are excited to see them as well.”
This year’s event is a special one in that it is the 40th anniversary beginning this weekend on Friday and Saturday and then again next weekend Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3. Tours will run from 5-9 p.m. both Fridays and 3-9 p.m. both Saturdays.
Kindle is thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved again. “I love Christmas time and it’s a lot of fun. I get to see beautiful homes, and all the decor, and the history behind them, seeing homeowners talk about their homes with such passion, it’s incredible. I love it.”
There are six homes on this year’s tour along with four other downtown Madison historic sites and four hospitality locations that will provide refreshments and restrooms.
Two of the homes are west of Cragmont Street — a rarity for the home tours. They include the Taylor Home at 1010 West Main Street, which underwent almost a year of restoration by owners Rick and Cathy Taylor who maintained much of the historic character, and the McCrocklin Home at 906 West Main St., owned by Tracy McCrocklin, a shotgun house built in the 1850s.
Other sites on the tour include the Danda Home at 132 East Street, the Stark/Ray Home at 202 West Second St., the McWilliams Home at 315 Poplar Street and the Mires Home at 1010 East Street.
The Danda Home was built prior to the Civil War as part of a federal style duplex. Owner Patricia Danda owns the south duplex that’s on the tour that will display decorative collector items and holiday décor.
The Stark/Ray Home, owned by Thomas Stark and Edwin Ray, was built in 1825. It retains many of its original features including large doors in the front parlor and dining rooms, original fireplace mantels and woodwork.
The McWilliams Home, owned by Ken and Sally McWilliams, features original western pine floors on the first floor rooms and 11-foot, 9-inch ceilings while featuring many elements that combine both old and the new.
The Mires Home, owned by Theron and Jill Mires, was acquired by Jill’s grandparents in 1931. A 1887 map of Madison showed that it was originally a one-room house which additional rooms were built on over the years. The home retains many of the original features including woodwork, trim and mantle.
The tour also includes St. John’s United Church of Christ, which continues the tradition of having one downtown church on the tour each year. “The churches in downtown Madison are very historic and beautiful,” Kindle noted.
Additionally, there are three historic sites that are part of the tour — the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, Historic Madison Inc.’s Saddletree Factory, and the Masonic Schofield House, operated by the Masonic Heritage Federation.
There are also four hospitality sites — one being the Walnut Street Fire Hall Museum at 808 Walnut Street. The building was the original home of Walnut Street Fire Company No. 4 that’s now at Walnut and Third streets. It has now become a museum owned by Frank Taff. “The historic items that he has are amazing,” Kindle said, noting the collection of vintage and modern firefighting tools and equipment along with a 1913 Model T chassis and much more.
The other three hospitality sites are Lumber Mill Antique Mall, 721 West First St.; Old Thyme Marketplace, 801 West Main St.; and the Trolley Barn Shoppes, 719 West Main St. Additionally the Jefferson County History Center, 615 West First St., will be open with homemade gingerbread houses on display.
Tickets may be purchased on the nightsbeforechristmas.com website or at the Visitor Center, 601 West First St. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12 if purchased as a digital booklet, which includes the list of homes and their addresses and a QR code linking to detailed information. Tickets for the traditional tour ticket include a detailed booklet and cost $3 more. All tickets must be picked up at the Visitor Center and may be used on any of the four nights but each home can be toured only once.
With all that there is to see, Kindle said she “would highly recommend people doing it over both weekends or a couple of nights just to be sure to have time time to enjoy the home and not be rushed so that they will miss out on something.”
The Great Cookie Caper is also being held again this year at the Visitor Center in conjunction with the tour. All proceeds will go towards the purchase of sun shades for playground equipment at Hargan-Matthews Park. More than 600 dozen cookies will be made by volunteers — led by Marci Jones, who founded the cookie caper event and served as Nights Before Christmas coordinator for 16 years — before Kindle took over the Tour in 2021.
Tiffini Poling, Visit Madison Inc. office manager, said the cookie caper has become such a tradition that even out-of-town visitors come into the Visitor Center asking for the cookies. “You come in here, it just smells delicious,” she said.
Kindle noted the Nights Before Christmas Home Tour is done in partnership with Visit Madison Inc., the Jefferson County Historical Society, Historic Madison Inc., Lanier Mansion and the Masonic Schofield House. VMI is the coordinator of the event with donations going to those four sites. “It’s about making sure we’re making donations to our historic sites and our non-profits as well.”
The tour is a popular event, bringing long lines to the sites each year, and Kindle says that being the holiday season that adds to the interest in the tour. “People are excited to come out and see the lights. We have Madison Main Street all lit up that makes it very holiday spirited kind of thing. Not only just to see all the historic homes but also to see all the beautiful decorations.”
Visit Madison Inc. is once again hosting a Christmas decorating contest where homeowners in Madison and Jefferson County can display their love and spirit for the holidays and Make Madison Merry!
The contest, organized by the Nights Before Christmas Candlight Tour, Madison Main Street and the City of Madison, encourages local residents to adorn their homes with lights and decorations to create holiday cheer in Jefferson County.
Registration applications are available online and at the Visitors Center, 601 West First Street, Madison, and must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in order to participate in the decorating contest and to also be part of the Merry Madison Map of decorated homes.
Participation is open to all residents in Jefferson County and entry is free.
The contest is for exterior decorations only including decorations in windows that are visible from the exterior. Judging will be done from outside the residence only and based on “curb appeal” or what can be seen from the street.
The decoration deadline is Thursday, Dec. 1 to be included in the Merry Madison Lights Tour from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31.
Judging will take place from Dec. 8-14 with entries judged and winners chosen on the following categories: Clark Griswold Award for best use of excessive lights and decorations, Most Creative for outstanding artistic ability and/or unique use of decorations, and People’s Choice Award to the entry with the most “likes” of its photograph when posted in a Facebook album during the judging time period.
To be considered for the People’s Choice Award, photos must be submitted by participants to email@example.com on or before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7. Include the name and address in the email subject line.
Winners will be awarded for each category with three $200 prizes given — one for each category — in the form of Chamber Cash to be used at participating community businesses.
With local tourism trending toward another record-breaking year, data continues to show that Madison and Jefferson County it becoming more and more of an attraction to visitors.
Sarah Prasil, executive marketing director of Visit Madison Inc., cited that growth while providing an update at Monday’s meeting of the VMI board of directors.
“It’s just been nothing but wonderful growth. These months are just killing it,” she said, noting each month has shown an increase in innkeepers tax receipts over the same month last year.
Last year $537,606.48 was collected through the innkeepers tax through the end of October, but with two months of data to go collections this year are already approaching that amount with more than $500,000 collected in 2022. Prasil noted there are already strong indications that November will be another record month for innkeeper collections. For example, during the weekend of MadHop, held Nov. 5, Prasil said local hotels were at 75% occupancy on the Friday of that weekend and 79% on the Saturday.
“We should be able to celebrate” work that’s been done by VMI in promoting Madison and Jefferson County. “That’s a big deal,” said Lucy Dattilo, president of the VMI board of directors.
In other business:
• Prasil reported new marketing partnership levels that provide for 10 gold level spots have sold out with each of those businesses to be featured in VMI’s experience guide. “We had a lot of interest right off the bat,” said Prasil. “It’s good that they see the value in Visit Madison’s marketing.”
• Prasil announced that Jefferson County has officially been approved by the Indiana Festival Association board of directors to be on the 2028 cover of the Indiana Festival Guide. Jefferson County Board of Tourism agreed to provide funding earlier this year to be featured on the cover. Prasil noted that VMI must have the first draft completed by the summer of 2026 because that image will be used in 2027 to begin promoting advertising in the 2028 guide.
• Approved transferring a certificate of deposit totaling $6,562.41 that matures on Dec. 5 into a savings account, along with moving $587 from the dormant RiverJam checking account into the savings account.