March means tourism boom

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 5, 2004

March brings big bucks into Selma, with the Bridge Crossing Jubilee this weekend and the upcoming Pilgrimage later in the month.

Sales tax figures for 2003 indicate collections of $1,670,007 in March – more than twice the collections for February of $629,024, though January had a hefty $1,400,451.

Lauri Cothran, executive vice president for tourism in the Centre for Commerce, said that March is a very big month for tourism, with the two annual events back to back. She added that of the two the Bridge Crossing Jubilee is considerably larger and is a major attraction during the year. &uot;Bridge Crossing Jubilee is at or near the top in terms of the number of tourists attracted,&uot; she said, &uot;augmented by all the local people who participate.&uot;

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Cothran said that there are approximately 600 hotel rooms of all types in Selma. Most will be full, she said, and hotels in Montgomery and Prattville also experience increased bookings.

The event is promoted by the tourism division through print and cable media in cities far enough away for readers responding to the advertising to have to come and spend a night here.

Area hotels, restaurants and museums contacted for the most part all see the weekend as a big boost.

John Davis of Hampton Inn on West Highland Avenue said, &uot;We are overbooked for Friday and Saturday. We are more than sold out,&uot; he said happily, though no extra employees will be added for the weekend shifts.

Holiday Inn’s John McHugh reported that his motel was booked up for Saturday but there were still a few openings for Friday. &uot;The weekend,&uot; he said, &uot;is one of the top ones for the year.&uot;

Latasha Norris of Jameson Inn on Broad Street said that she had a few rooms left for Thursday night but was booked up for Friday and Saturday. Wednesday night, she said, there were vacancies earlier in the evening that were eventually filled.

A spokesperson for Days Inn on Highland Avenue said that they were booked up for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and nearly so on Wednesday. Of those surveyed, Days Inn was the only one utilizing extra help on Jubilee weekend.

Cheryl Marshall of Comfort Inn on Highway 14E said that Jubilee weekend is one of the top occupancy weekends of the year, that she only had a few rooms left for Friday night and was full Saturday.

Contacts with area restaurant owners and managers brought a mixture of responses. The most excited was owner Jeffrey Strong of Strong’s No. 2 Real Soul Food on Washington St. – close to the center of the weekend action on Water Avenue.

Strong said enthusiastically that this was his biggest weekend of the year. &uot;The crowds are not overwhelming at any one time, but there is a very steady flow of customers throughout the weekend.&uot;

By way of contrast, Misty Frederickson of Major Grumbles has not had a positive experience with Jubilee. She said that fencing during the weekend had made it very difficult for her regular patrons to get into her parking lot behind the restaurant. Friday night was OK, she said, but she closed for Saturday lunch based on previous experience, opening again on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. She plans to follow the same schedule this year.

Lt. David Evans of the Selma Police Department said that this year, while it might be difficult at times, there will be continual access to Major Grumbles and to the St. James Hotel nearby.

Joanne Bland, executive director of the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute on Water Avenue, the group that sponsors the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, said that most of the thousands who come for the weekend find their way to the museum. Economically, she said, Jubilee is not a boon or a negative at the museum.

Jean Martin, director of the Old Depot Museum on Water Avenue, thinks Jubilee boosts visitors to Old Depot but said it’s hard to tell. &uot;Most of the people coming through this week,&uot; she said, &uot;are going north toward their homes in places like Philadelphia and even Ottawa.&uot;