A plan to create a new entity to oversee tourism and promote activities related to a new national heritage area is a great opportunity for Lawrence and Douglas County.
Officials of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and local supporters of the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area already have endorsed a plan to create a nonprofit entity called Destination Management Inc. The Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and Lawrence Visitors Center would be folded into the new group along with activities related to the heritage area. Other museums and historical entities also might be brought under the Destination Management umbrella.
Perhaps one of the greatest assets of the new management entity will be Judy Billings, current director of the convention and visitors bureau. In addition to many other tourism efforts during her tenure at the chamber, Billings helped lead the drive to gain approval for the heritage area, which covers 41 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
It is the hope of local heritage area proponents that establishing Destination Management will help Lawrence make a strong case for being the gateway community and the management hub for the entire 41-county area. Gaining that status would be a huge boon for historical tourism in Lawrence and Douglas County.
In addition to the role it could play in developing the heritage area, the new management entity also could provide valuable coordination to various tourism efforts in the area, especially those related to historical sites and events. The leadership of Billings and the new agency could go a long way toward making the connection between local historical and tourism resources and tying them to the broader heritage area mission.
The new entity would be a joint project of the heritage area, the chamber, the city and the county and overseen by a board that represents all of those bodies. The CVB no longer would be under the chamber umbrella, and city money that supports that office's activities would be redirected, under a new contract, to Destination Management. That's a significant shift for Lawrence but has the potential to be a positive change.
The Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission still must approve this plan, but it seems likely they will approve of what seems to be a visionary piece of cooperation that will provide many benefits for the community.