HEARNE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE 2004 - 2005 ANNUAL TOURISM REPORT
This report identifies the Hearne Chamber of Commerce’s tourism-related activities over the period July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005. It also identifies a variety of Hearne tourism-related challenges and opportunities. The simple and to-the-point logo above was created in recent months. It is being widely used on Hearne promotional materials. Highlights Of This Year’s Report It has been a busy year for the chamber. The biggest single accomplishment has been the remodeling of the building which houses the chamber & economic development offices. A Friday, July 8 open house and mixer is planned. With building renovations almost complete, planning in now underway for the September 24 Crossroads Championship BBQ Cook-Off & Crossroads Music Festival (featuring Gary Allan & Kevin Fowler). Earlier this year, the chamber worked closely with the nationally broadcast PBS “History Detectives” program in its filming of a special 20-minute episode on Camp Hearne (expected to air later this year). The chamber has been helping the Brazos Valley Museum create an exhibit on Camp Hearne which will be displayed in Bryan from October 1, 2005 – May 31, 2006. The displays from this exhibit will be brought to Hearne and will be permanently housed in the reception room at the chamber. The chamber and economic office has spearheaded efforts to make Hearne more attractive by cleaning-up high visibility railroad & highway rights-of-ways. A community-wide effort is being made that includes funding from Hearne’s 4A & 4B Sales Tax Boards, Keep Hearne Beautiful, companies which maintain and operate pipelines, electrical & communications lines, and fiber optic lines cables through Hearne. The “Better Hearne Project” was created to serve as the clearinghouse for local clean-up activities. Working with Texas A&M professors and graduate students, the chamber is helping develop a heritage tourism plan which incorporates the depot, Camp Hearne, downtown commercial buildings, and historic residences. To move this process forward, the chamber requests that a joint workshop be scheduled in the near future. This Hearne heritage tourism workshop would include members of the Hearne City Council, Hearne’s 4A Sales Tax Board, Hearne 4B Sales Tax Board, Hearne Depot Museum Board, and Roll Call: Friends Of Camp Hearne Board. Texas A&M representatives have also created the core elements of a clickable, interactive Hearne map in ArcGIS format. When the inputting of data on this sophisticated mapping program is complete, online visitors will be able to tour historic sites of interest, click on available commercial properties to view photos and statistics, view traffic patterns on local highways, and use these maps for a variety of other purposes.
The chamber continues to respond to the myriad of phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, e-mails, & letters that it receives on a daily basis. Countless referrals are made to businesses that are Hearne Chamber of Commerce members. The chamber website at www.hearnetexas.info and the new telephone information hotline at 979.280.5500 dispense tourism & economic development information about Hearne 24/7. Bumper stickers, billboards, highway banners, table tents, & tear off take-one ads promote the website, telephone hotline, special events, & local places to stay. The chamber places U.S. flags throughout downtown on holidays & hosts the annual Christmas parade. Hearne Chamber Of Commerce Building Renovations The Hearne Chamber of Commerce building underwent a massive transformation in early 2005. A dilapidated old building with crumbling walls, 60s-style laminated paneling, and the stench of mold and mildew has been renovated to reveal exposed brick walls and numerous twelve-pane steel windows which haven’t seen the light of day in 50+ years. New ceramic tile floors, bathroom fixtures, and khaki-colored interior sheetrock walls create a more inviting, nicer, safer, and cleaner building. The much-improved building serves as the hub for tourism and economic development activities. The building is a very important gateway to Hearne for tourists and economic development prospects. The renovated, ADA-accessible building is already hosting meetings and is quickly becoming a popular venue for local civic activities. Renovation activities began with the power-washing of the building’s exterior. The old gray exterior paint is now gone; the natural off-white bricks are once again visible on two sides of the structure. The side of the building along the alley has been sanded and the brick has been re-pointed. Refurbished old metal windows, cedar window boxes filled with red geraniums, and new carpet grass soften the look of the building and draw the attention of passersby. Several interior walls were removed revealing the original redish-pink bricks of the 80+ year-old building. The building’s look, smell, and structural integrity have been vastly improved. Old carpeting, floor tiles, rotted and bowed interior walls were removed. After cleaning, original bricks remain visible inside. Sheetrock has replaced paneling. Ceramic floor tiles have replaced dingy old carpet. Numerous water leaks have been repaired. In many spots, the mortar between the bricks had turned to dust. In way too many places, daylight could be seen streaming through gaps in mortar that was supposed to be twobricks thick! The recent re-pointing of the interior bricks will help prevent a future wall collapse and preserve the building. All of the interior doors in the chamber building were manufactured at Lifetime Doors in Hearne. All of the vitreous china plumbing fixtures (sinks & toilet) were manufactured at Crane Plumbing in Hearne. The renovated chamber building is a place of which we can all be proud. This spruced-up structure also graphically demonstrates the renovation potential that many of Hearne’s old commercial buildings possess. The chamber hopes its renovation efforts will encourage new businesses to take the time and effort for refurnish other old commercial buildings in town. A grand opening is scheduled for Friday, July 8. Congressman Chet Edwards as well as other federal, state, and local officials will be on hand to help cut the ribbon.
Camp Hearne To Be Featured On Nationally Broadcast PBS “History Detectives” Program For months leading up to January 2005, the Hearne Chamber of Commerce funneled information and photographs to PBS headquarters in New York City. With much of the legwork already done before the PBS film crew hit Texas soil the last week in January 2005, a full week was spent filming in Hearne and the surrounding area. A special 20minute episode of the popular PBS series “History Detectives” is expected to air in the late summer, early fall of 2005. Camp Hearne To Be Featured In Brazos Valley Museum Exhibit The Hearne Chamber of Commerce has been working with the Brazos Valley Museum to help create an exhibit on Camp Hearne. This exhibit will be displayed in Bryan from October 1, 2005 – May 31, 2006. Materials from Texas A&M’s Camp Hearne Collection as well as items from the Hearne Chamber of Commerce (including the scale model of the camp) will be on display in Bryan for seven months. In early June 2006, the entire exhibit will move to its permanent home at the Hearne Chamber of Commerce. This exhibit will fill most of the reception area at the chamber. Better Hearne Project Clean-Up Campaign Unless they venture off the highway a block or two, the masses of people passing through Hearne will likely never see anything more than the restaurants, convenience stores, and other facilities that dot the highway. As an essential first step, every effort is being made to clean up all of the highway rights-of-way, railroad rights-of-way, and the private properties that are visible from both TX 6 and US 79. These properties, which serve as Hearne’s front yard to passersby, need to be attractive and beckon folks to further explore our community. In late spring and throughout the summer of 2005, crews have been working to clean Hearne’s high visibility properties. A community-wide effort is being made that includes funding from Hearne’s 4A & 4B Sales Tax Boards, Keep Hearne Beautiful, companies which maintain and operate pipelines, electrical & communications lines, and fiber optic lines cables through Hearne. The “Better Hearne Project” was created to serve as the clearinghouse for clean-up activities throughout Hearne. Clickable Interactive Hearne GIS Map Texas A&M faculty and graduate students have created a Hearne map in GIS format. When data input is complete, this map will be made available to emergency personnel and to the general public in print as well as online formats. Having accurate GIS maps would assist EMS, fire, and police in locating appropriate properties and communicating with specific individuals or people in different geographic areas. These maps could also serve valuable economic development, historic preservation, and tourism purposes. A top priority of getting an accurate GIS base map created for Hearne has recently been accomplished. Next, this map will be layered and manipulated to serve a variety of other needs.
Tourist Information Dissemination Activities The Hearne Chamber disseminates a variety of local tourist information materials in response to the 60+ phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, e-mails, and letters it receives on a daily basis. Hearne Chamber Of Commerce Website The Hearne Chamber Of Commerce website at www.hearnetexas.info continues to be one of the easiest-to-use and most comprehensive websites of its kind. It utilizes “best practices” found in a survey of other central Texas town, city, county, regional, and chamber of commerce websites. This website, which presents Hearne in its most favorable light, heavily promotes local tourism and economic development. Online since April 15, 2003, in the first two years and two months of its existence, the Hearne Chamber website has generated almost 24,000 hits from online visitors looking for information about Hearne. This means that more than five times the current number of Hearne residents visited the Hearne Chamber website in the past 26 months. The site has consistently raked in 900+ online visitors per month or roughly 30 visitors a day. This website is routinely updated to include new and timely information. This includes information on events at the Hearne Municipal Airport and the Robertson County Fairgrounds in Hearne. Bumper Stickers, Billboards, & Banners In an effort to boost Hearne’s visibility, the Hearne Chamber has launched a local advertising campaign which utilizes a combination of bumper stickers, billboards, & highway banners. Bumper Stickers Red, white, and blue bumper stickers touting the message “Have You Been To www.hearnetexas.info?” serve as mini portable billboards urging folks to visit the Hearne Chamber of Commerce website to obtain tourism and other information. These colorful bumper stickers, which are now in their third 1,000-quantity printing, have proven quite popular. These bumper stickers are often spotted on vehicles around town. They are available for pick-up by individuals and companies wishing to place them on their vehicles. Pick-up locations include the Hearne Chamber office, City Hall, as well as several local merchants. The City of Hearne and the Hearne ISD have placed these bumper stickers on most city and school vehicles. The Chamber routinely gets calls from local merchants requesting additional bumper stickers for their patrons. People often call or drop by the chamber to ask where they can “buy” these bumper stickers, which are given away for free. Given the high rate at which these bumper stickers are being pickedup by visitors, another bumper sticker order will soon be placed. Billboards The Hearne Chamber negotiated a special deal with Johnson Outdoor Advertising to place public service advertisements on four vacant billboards in Hearne. A billboard urging people passing through town to “Spend What You Earn In The City Of Hearne” was purchased by the Chamber.
Three other billboards were jointly purchased by Hearne’s 4A and 4B Sales Tax Boards. The faces on these billboards provide local information, ask visitors to “Check Out Our Links” (promoting the Hearne Municipal Golf Course), and urge visitors to “Spend Some Time In 77859” (promoting local tourism). All of these billboards prominently promote the www.hearnetexas.info website address. One of them promotes the local information telephone hotline at 979.280.5500. One of these billboards was recently taken down. The other three billboards have been up for almost two years. While they were originally slated to only remain up for a one-year period, these billboards are holding up well. Due to the over-building of billboards in Hearne, these faces will remain in their current locations until the spaces they occupy are sold to other advertisers. Highway Banners Roughly 17,000 vehicles a day pass through Hearne. This figure is significantly greater on holiday weekends or when area universities host football games, hold graduations, sponsor music, entertainment, and other events. Early this year, Hearne’s 4B Sales Tax Board approved the purchase of highway or avenue banners promoting Hearne. In early February, forty-four highway banners were placed on all of the city-owned light poles from the overpass south of town to the current depot location as well as on TX 79 from GATX to the intersection of Brown & Market Streets. These banners are in two background colors – red and blue – with white writing. Both versions proclaim Hearne as the Crossroads Of Texas. The blue banners contain the www.hearnetexas.info website address. The alternating red banners contain the 979.280.5500 local information telephone hotline number. To keep business as local as possible, these banners were purchased from Rockdale Signs. None of these banners were hung over the TxDOT rights-of-way on highways through town. The TxDOT right-of-way extends about eight feet along the roadside to roughly where the city’s light poles are positioned. Since these banners were placed on the sides of the light poles which are NOT over the TxDOT right-of-ways, commercial messages like website and phone numbers can be used. Highway banners are a good way of communicating with people passing through town. Due to the repeated impressions of seeing banner messages all the way through town, people may likely remember the local website address when booking their next local hotel reservations or may remember the local phone number and call it to obtain information about local restaurants and other sites. People traveling through town and local residents alike might well remember the website address or phone number and utilize them during a natural disaster, accident, or terrorism emergency to obtain the latest information. Chamber & Economic Development Office Banners For the month leading up to September 25, 2004, banners proclaiming “BUY TICKETS HERE. Crossroads Music Festival. Sept. 25. www.crossroadstx.info” were installed on the chamber building to promote the Crossroads Music Festival. A portable A-frame “Open” sign with waving American flag was also placed on the pavement outside the Chamber office.
Shortly after September 25, two new banners were placed on the building. The blue replacement banner has large letters which read “Hearne Chamber Of Commerce;” the large letters on the red replacement banner read “Hearne Economic Development.” It is hoped that these banners will bring even more visitors into the chamber and economic development office. Local Telephone Information Hotline The local telephone information hotline at 979.280.5500 is now operational. This telephone number is already on one billboard and appears on half of the new highway banners. During non-crisis periods, this communications device provides all sorts of local information, including tourist and economic development information. In times of peril, this number could easily be converted and used by law enforcement and other officials to broadcast timely information to local residents and visitors. In late 2004, Hearne’s 4A Sales Tax Board approved funding to purchase a telephone system which would accommodate a local hotline. This system, complete with a batteryoperated back-up, is housed at the chamber. A script for this telephone hotline was created and recorded in early 2005. Recorded messages are periodically updated as circumstances warrant. Before and after office hours, on weekends, on holidays, and at times when no one is available to answer incoming calls, the local information hotline fields calls and provides information to callers. Table Tent Advertising 300 new clear plastic table tents were donated to the Hearne Chamber of Commerce in late 2004 by chamber board member Sylvia Montelongo, owner of AMAs restaurant. Metallic gray labels with navy blue lettering were placed on these table tents to identify them as a chamber activity. Inserts promoting the 2004 Crossroads Music Festival were inserted into these table tents and placed on local restaurant tables. After the festival, the table tents were removed from restaurant tables and returned to the chamber office. A second insert was created which promotes local places to stay. One side of this insert contained general information on the telephone hotline and website. The other side contained information on places to stay in Robertson County which are members of the Hearne Chamber of Commerce. Plans are underway to create a third table tent insert which will contain information about the September 24, 2005 Crossroads Music Festival and Crossroads Championship BBQ Cook-Off. These should be on local restaurant tables in the very near future. All-Weather Take-One Boxes In an effort to multiply the number of local information distribution opportunities, the Chamber has been looking into the possibility of placing special all-weather take-one boxes at eateries, gasoline stations, and convenience stores throughout Robertson County. These would be stocked with maps and brochures containing local information. Even though the Chamber has received commitments to put these boxes at several Robertson County restaurants, it has not yet done so.
Five plastic take-one boxes have been tested outside the Hearne Chamber office. Since their brochure supplies were routinely depleted, both fulfilled their mission of distributing information to the public when the Chamber office was closed. However, all of these plastic boxes came apart at the seams with repeated use. A stronger- and sturdier-looking take-one box has been ordered. It will be tested outside the chamber office before additional take-one boxes are ordered.. New “Welcome To Hearne” Sign Hearne’s 4B Sales Tax Board approved a request from the Chamber to purchase a new “Welcome To Hearne” sign and place it near the new Hearne High School campus at the west end of town. With the school’s permission in hand, the city installed this new sign. This sign replaces an old white wooden sign that has seen better days. The new sign is identical to the welcome signs at the north and south ends of Hearne on TX 6. The two big front-to-back signs across from the Chamber office on TX 6 still need to updated. These signs still carry the old “Sunflower Capital Of Texas” slogan instead of the “Crossroads Of Texas” slogan that has been used for the past several years. Rather than totally replacing these signs, same color boards would cover the old slogan and insert the newer slogan over the top of it. (see “Official Designations” below.) Places To Stay The Hearne Chamber of Commerce developed a countywide “Places To Stay” take-one which encourages tourists and travelers to stay overnight in Robertson County. It includes information about motels/inns, bed & breakfasts, and other accommodations throughout the county. The information included in this brochure can be viewed online by clicking “Places To Stay” at www.hearnetexas.info. To help defray publication costs for the Places To Stay brochure, the Hearne Chamber conducted a membership drive to get as many bed and breakfasts, hotels, and motels in Robertson County as possible to become Hearne Chamber of Commerce members. As a result, most accommodations providers in the county are now Hearne Chamber members,. The Hearne Chamber is now trying to bring together and represent the collective interests of the county’s lodging industry representatives. As such, the chamber and accommodations industry representatives plan to meet periodically to plan activities to promote putting “heads in beds” in Robertson County. Places To Eat The Hearne Chamber of Commerce is developing a countywide “Places To Eat” take-one which will encourage tourists, travelers, and local residents to dine in local restaurants. It will include information about eating establishments throughout the county. Much of the information to be included in this brochure can already be viewed online by clicking “Places To Eat” at www.hearnetexas.info. To help defray publication costs for the Places To Eat brochure, the Hearne Chamber is conducting a membership drive to get as many restaurants in Robertson County as possible to become Hearne Chamber of Commerce members. This effort is still in the fledgling stages. If this outreach proves successful, it is hoped that the Hearne Chamber can bring together and represent the collective interests of the county’s restaurants. As such, the chamber and local restaurant industry representatives could meet periodically to plan activities to promote Robertson County eateries.
Chamber-Sponsored Events & Activities As a public service and as a show of patriotism, Hearne Chamber board members place U.S. flags on downtown streets on major national holidays – Flag Day, Independence Day, th Labor Day, Memorial Day, September 11 , Presidents Day, and other important dates. Recent chamber-sponsored events have been huge successes. The 2004 annual Christmas parade brought the largest and most enthusiastic numbers of people to this event in recent memory. The chamber’s annual banquet in January 2004 was attended by a couple of hundred people. It featured a White House BBQ Dinner catered by presidential caterer Eddie Deen along with short speeches from candidates for federal and state office. For the first time ever in September 2004, the Hearne Chamber hosted the International BBQ Cookers Association Crossroads BBQ Cook-Off Championship. Held during the day on September 25, 2004, this cook-off brought 42 teams of from four to ten people each to Hearne. Since many cookers arrived early and stayed late, this event brought hundreds of visitors to town over a couple of day period. The Chamber plans to grow this Hearne event on an annual basis. The 2004 Crossroads BBQ Cook-Off Championship & Crossroards Music Festival on brought over 2,000 people to Hearne. A special website, www.crossroadstx.info, was created and highly promoted for the event. Radio ads on WACO 100 & AGGIE 96, TV ads on KBTX, newspaper ads, billboards, banners on the chamber office, posters, table tents, take-one tear-off pads, roadside signs, and building banners were all used to promote the 2004 festival. These activities have generated significant positive name recognition for Hearne. They are also helping to establish Hearne as an annual music venue which attracts localites as well as tourists. Hearne Showcase With building renovations now complete, the Hearne Chamber of Commerce plans to showcase items of interest relating to Hearne. The Hearne Chamber of Commerce is working with the Brazos Valley Museum in Bryan to create a special exhibit on Camp Hearne which will be in Bryan from October 1, 2005 through May 31, 2006. The displays from this exhibit will be brought to Hearne and will be permanently housed in the reception room at the chamber. Bart Lockhart recently provided the chamber with an old wooden handcart which was used at the old Hearne Depot. A sketch of the depot donated to the chamber director by artist Winston Sanders shortly before his untimely death will soon be prominently displayed along with depot bricks and other depot fundraising items. The chamber director, Pastor Kenneth Byrd, and Marvelyn Mathis Cotropia have been spearheading efforts to collect old Hearne photographs and postcards. Many of these have been voluntarily provided by local Hearne residents. Some sixty identical walnut picture frames with gold trim have been ordered to prominently display 1930s and 1940s photographs of Hearne commercial buildings, schools, churches, and architecturally significant residences. To help serve economic development needs, a “Made In Hearne” display is being contemplated which will showcase items or pictures of products and services provided by local companies like GATX, Stark Truss, Crane Plumbing, Lifetime Doors, & Wichita
Metals. A large map of Hearne will be placed on the wall so prospective businesses can view various available locations which may be suitable for their needs. Hearne Chamber Office Storefront For Robertson County Historical Commission The Hearne Chamber office functions as a storefront operation for the Robertson County Historical Commission. A part of county government, the local historical commission is on a limited budget and has no dedicated office space. Many local libraries, county offices, city offices, and chambers of commerce routinely field questions relating to Robertson County history and genealogy. Most of these are referred to the information online at the Robertson County Historical Commission’s 1,000+ document website at www.robertsoncounty.info. This TXGenWeb site is one of the most comprehensive local history and genealogy websites in the nation. An ex-officio member of the Robertson County Historical Commission, the Hearne Chamber executive director created and maintains the Robertson County TXGenWeb site. Given this, it makes sense to direct historical and genealogical inquiries that cannot be answered online and that might logically be sent to the Robertson County Historical Commission (if it had an office) to the Hearne Chamber office. Plans are in the works to promote the local historical commission’s presence at the Hearne Chamber office to tourists and other area visitors. New Computers & QuickBooks The computer that formerly sat at the main reception desk at the chamber office has seen better days. In 2004, it was replaced at the chamber’s expense with a new Dell computer. The new computer has been loaded with the latest version of QuickBooks. All of the chamber’s financial records for the past two years have been inputted on the new computer. In late 2004, the Hearne 4A Sales Tax Board purchased a new computer for the EDC director, who had been using his own computer. The primary printers being used by the Chamber and the EDC – the HP Color LaserJet and the HP Laser Jet 5 – both belong to the EDC director. This arrangement will continue until a new printer can be purchased. Official Designations Crossroads Of Texas Branding The City Of Hearne and the Hearne Chamber Of Commerce both use the “Crossroads Of Texas” slogan. Since a considerable investment is being made in public relations and advertising activities to “brand” Hearne as the “Crossroads Of Texas,” last year’s report said that “actions need to be taken to protect this investment. The following activities are contemplated: Register the name with the Texas Secretary Of State’s Office; Get the Texas Legislature to officially designate Hearne as the “Crossroads Of Texas;” and Conduct a trademark name search and formally acquire the designation of “Crossroads Of Texas” through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.”
Buffalo also calls itself the “Crossroads of Texas.” Both State Representative Jim Dunnam and State Senator Steve Ogden represent Hearne as well as Buffalo in the Texas Legislature. As a result, no action was seen on this issue in the last legislative session.
After presenting the trademark issue to Charles Cotropia, an expert attorney in the field, it was determined that a trademark was not needed. Texas Yes! The City of Hearne and the Hearne Chamber of Commerce are both proud community and business Texas Yes! members. Texas Yes! is a new initiative from the Texas Department of Agriculture designed to spotlight rural Texas and promote rural Texas tourism. The Hearne Chamber of Commerce received almost $10,000 in funding from Texas Yes! in 2004 to advertise the 2004 Crossroads Music Festival. Preserve America Status Due to the efforts of Cathy Lazarus, Chair of the Robertson County Historical Commission, Hearne is one of fourteen Texas towns/cities and two Texas counties to receive the coveted Preserve America community status. Preserve America is a White House initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture, & U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The program recognizes communities which protect and celebrate their heritage, use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization, and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs. Texas Brazos Trail Hearne is part of the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Brazos Trail which incorporates seventeen central Texas counties. This heritage tourism initiative is designed to promote historic and cultural tourism in Texas. In spite of the best efforts of the Chamber and the Robertson County Historical Commission to showcase Hearne and Robertson County, the new Texas Brazos Trail brochure doesn’t even mention Hearne (but it does provide a link to the www.hearnetexas.info website). Certified Local Government Program The Texas Historical Commission’s Certified Local Government Program is a local, state, and federal government partnership for historic preservation. It is designed to help cities and counties protect a wide range of important historic properties – from ornate courthouses to working-class neighborhoods. Since such a designation would make Hearne eligible for funding opportunities for which it would not normally qualify, efforts will likely be made to get Hearne approved for this program. Future Tourism Activities Hearne Tourism Brochure & Website Content Much of the content for a new Hearne tourism brochure has already been written and has been placed online at www.hearnetexas.info. This material is in the process of being converted into a glossy tourism brochure which promotes Hearne’s multi-faceted assets. This brochure will include a new, easy-to-read, fold-out, detailed map of everything in the Hearne city limits as well as a detailed map of Robertson County. Once created, this new brochure will be distributed to all of the Texas Department of Transportation Tourism Information Centers at the state capitol, at the state lines, and elsewhere. Materials will also be distributed to Chamber of Commerce offices within a 200-mile radius of Hearne. A fulfillment response card encouraging these offices to re-stock their Hearne inventory when supplies start running low will also be provided. Future Activities Which Would Have A Positive Impact Upon Tourism Activities Local Information Radio Station Many communities have tourist information radio stations which broadcast local information. Such a station would normally broadcast
local tourist information. This broadcast could easily be co-opted by authorities during emergencies. Such stations require FCC licensure, can be created on a computer, need to access a short tower, and can only broadcast short distances. As part of its homeland security planning, Brazos County recently made arrangements to obtain a local information radio station. Grant monies will be applied for to try to obtain a local information radio station for Hearne & Robertson County. LED Message Center Roadsigns At present, the area in the Waco, Houston, & Austin triangle does not have any electronic highway signs that can be instantaneously updated. Two large LED message center signs (installed back-to-back with one facing north & one facing south) need to be placed along the roadside of combined TX 6 & US 79 in Hearne. These changeable signs would include multiple rows of large, multi-color electronic text. Under normal conditions, sign messages might display public service notices, like upcoming local events, local high school football games, places to stay, etc. These signs could also be used to notify people of Amber Alerts, highway closure notifications (due to terrorism, weather, or accidents), etc. These signs could be taken over in emergencies by the Robertson County Sheriff’s office or the Hearne Police Department to communicate with the public. Grant monies will be applied for to try to obtain these LED signs. Texas Capital Fund Downtown Revitalization Improvements Grant Program This grant program is designed to foster and stimulate economic development in the downtown area by providing financial assistance for public infrastructure improvements. This program aids in the elimination of slum or blighted areas. The chamber is working with Kerbow & Associates to place reproductions of Hearne’s old streetlights in strategic locations in the downtown commercial district. Given the significant economic development repercussions of infrastructure improvements to downtown Hearne, Hearne’s 4A & 4B boards might be approached concerning possible funding of the 10% required match ($15,000 for a maximum grant of $150,000) or additional expenses should Hearne receive this grant. Rural Communities Grant Program The Texas A&M Parks & Recreation Department is interested in designing a graduate class teaching model that would assist Hearne in developing its heritage resources into a viable tourism program. At the same time, Baylor is creating a new graduate program on Texas & Southern history. Along with Baylor’s oral history and museum studies departments, this new department hopes to use Hearne & Robertson County as its primary laboratory over the coming years. These Texas A&M & Baylor endeavors might involve Hearne hosting an extension office which would afford students and faculty a local office to document, assimilate, and process their findings. This could be a multi-faceted building that would also serve as a temporary visitor’s center & even as a museum for Camp Hearne, Hearne Depot, County Courthouse, & other Robertson County artifacts. Hearne, or a local nonprofit organization, might qualify for the Rural Communities grant program administered by the Texas Parks & Recreation Department. This grant would provide money to lease, buy, or rehabilitate a Hearne building for the above use. This grant might also provide limited operational funding for such an extension office over a several year period. Given the significant economic development repercussions of developing a cohesive heritage tourism plan of action for Hearne, the Hearne 4A & 4B boards will be approached concerning possible funding of the required match should Hearne receive this grant. Critical Review & Evaluation Of Existing Tourism Materials In an effort to improve the quality of its tourist information offerings and the tourism related services provided under the chamber’s contract with the City of Hearne, the Hearne Chamber has done the following:
Critically reviewed the currently available local tourist information materials; Evaluated the caliber of materials being distributed by neighboring towns and counties; & Evaluated the tangible benefits of regional tourism initiatives.
The chamber has concluded that a complete revamp of Hearne’s tourist information materials is needed for the following reasons: While some of the existing content is still good, all materials need to be reorganized and updated (some materials contain incorrect e-mail, website, & physical addresses; others have outdated information on local events); A review of the materials being distributed in nearby towns shows Rockdale, Taylor, and others with slick, professionally created marketing pieces which beautifully showcase local community attributes. It was quickly discovered that neighboring towns are running circles around Hearne in the marketing arena; & Regional tourism outreaches have yet to produce any meaningful increases in the number of tourists visiting the local area. Rather than waiting for the Texas Brazos Trail, Texas Bluebonnet Trail, Texas Presidential Corridor, or other similar initiatives to bring tourists to our local area, the Hearne Chamber believes Hearne needs to seize the initiative and take steps NOW to adequately promote itself BEFORE hoping to reap benefits from any of these regional initiatives. Once quality local materials exist, these can then be plugged into regional initiatives where appropriate. New Materials + New Approach Created in tandem with Hearne’s new economic development initiative, an entirely new approach is needed to promote Hearne. Starting with a tourist information materials revamp, a new marketing approach would: Create a new Hearne brand identity for use in promoting tourism and economic development; Promote a colorful and attractive new logo that showcases Hearne’s convenient central Texas location and creates a fresh new look for the city; Update and significantly expand all existing tourism and economic development materials; Create professionally printed, full-color marketing pieces that have a consistent professional look and feel to them; & Create all marketing pieces in two formats so they can be distributed as brochures as well as printed online by website visitors. Tourism Plans Heritage Tourism Master Plan The Texas Historical Commission aggressively promotes heritage tourism as an important economic development tool for local communities. At a minimum, a Hearne Heritage Tourism Master Plan is needed to assure that the activities taking place at the Hearne Depot, Camp Hearne, & Hearne Municipal Airport all complement each another. Hearne’s historic commercial district and residential neighborhoods also need to be factored into this master plan. At present, there is no organized coordination among the various entities working on these projects. General Tourism Master Plan Promoting heritage tourism is not all that needs to be done to bring tourists to Hearne to spend nights in local hotels, motels, inns, bed & breakfasts.
In addition to heritage tourism, much more needs to be done to promote Hearne’s recreational assets and local eco-tourism activities. Heritage Tourism Given the significant economic development benefits of promoting heritage tourism, the Hearne Chamber of Commerce plans to lead the charge in developing an aggressive campaign to promote Hearne and Robertson County as a heritage tourism destination. These efforts will be coordinated with the Bremond, Calvert, and Franklin Chambers of Commerce to create a seamless heritage tourism campaign that covers the entire county. To be created in conjunction with the Robertson County Historical Commission as the “Robertson County Heritage Tourism Trail,” this new outreach will feature the following Hearne attractions: Hearne’s turn-of-the-century, arrow-shaped railroad depot (being restored in large part by a series of TxDOT TEA-21 grants); Camp Hearne (the World War II Prisoner-Of-War Camp located just outside of Hearne on property adjacent to the Hearne Municipal Airport); Hearne’s 1950s Municipal Airport; & Hearne’s historic commercial and residential buildings.
This campaign will also include a series of driving tours which showcase the local area’s historic and agricultural roots. The following tours (beginning and ending in Hearne) will be available in both print and online formats: Brazos Bottom (Hearne, Benchley, Mumford, Valley Junction, FM 485 to Hearne); River Road/Calvert (Hearne, FM 485 to Goodland, Calvert, Sterling, TX 6 to Hearne); OSR/Wheelock (Hearne, Benchley, OSR, Wheelock, Black Jack, Hearne); Franklin/New Baden (Hearne, Franklin, Owensville, Bald Prairie, New Baden, US 79 to Hearne); & Wootan Wells/Bremond (Hearne, Wootan Wells, Bremond, back to Hearne). General Tourism Convenient Location Hearne’s convenient location makes it an ideal spot from which to explore central Texas. Hearne’s strategic location needs to be stressed in all tourism materials. Railfanners & Train Buffs Since Union Pacific's north-south/east-west routes cross in Hearne and two other railroads pass through the nearby Brazos bottom, the Hearne area is a rail-fanner and train buff paradise. Hearne needs to be promoted as a logical place for such enthusiasts to meet and explore railroading in the Brazos Valley. Special railroading events need to be organized. Outdoor Activities Hearne offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including golf, swimming, tennis, baseball, softball, basketball, football, volleyball, jogging, picnicking, dog-walking, and more. These attractions need to aggressively promoted to potential tourists. Current Hearne recreational facilities that are open to the public include the following:
Eastside Park Hearne Municipal Golf Course Hearne Swimming Pool Guy Edward Chandler Park
Hearne Junior High School Hearne High School Bob Jones Park & Playground Baseball Fields
Blackshear Elementary School East Side Elementary School Northside Park New Sports Complex
Local Venues To Rent A concerted effort needs to be made to book and keep local public and private venues booked. Significant opportunities exist to bring tourists to the area via this means. To quote from the text narrative on the Hearne Venues To Rent webpage: “If you are looking for a place to host a major outdoor event, like a concert, rodeo, livestock show, or religious revival, the Robertson County Fairgrounds in Hearne may suit your needs. If you are hoping to schedule a more airy event, the Hearne Municipal Airport may be the logical spot to schedule your next fly-in, hang-gliding competition, model airplane event, hot air balloon show, air show, rocket launching or other aeronautical event. The wide expanses of pavement at Hearne Municipal Airport are also ideal for soap-box derby races and similar land-based events. On a less grandiose scale, if you crave an intimate spot to host a swimming party, family gathering, high school reunion, wedding reception, bridal shower, baby shower, bachelor party, business function, dinner, Christmas party, birthday party, anniversary party, retirement party, wake, or other special event, Hearne offers a variety of public and private venues that are available for rent.” Local rental venues include: Robertson County Fairgrounds Fairman’s Hall Hearne Municipal Airport Hearne Swimming Pool Clubhouse Eastside Pavilion Northside Pavilion Teal Center Moody Center Horseshoe Club V. F. W. Hall St. Mary’s Hall
Given the Robertson County Fair Association’s interest in renting out the Robertson County Fairgrounds to increasing numbers of events, the Chamber plans to create a special webpage for the local Fair Association. Complete with photographs, map, pricing and contact information, this webpage will showcase and promote this important Hearne venue. Sporting / Nature Much more needs to be done to promote Hearne and Robertson County as logical destinations for hunters, fishers, boaters, hikers, nature enthusiasts, and others wishing to explore the great outdoors. Robertson County boasts some of the best hunting and fishing in central Texas. Hunting opportunities include squirrel, deer, ducks, geese, doves, teals, rails, gallinules, woodcocks, and snipes. Fishing opportunities within a 25-mile radius of Hearne include Lake Limestone, Lake Bryan, Brazos River, Navasota River, and many private lakes. Within a 100-mile radius of Hearne, there are twenty lakes and reservoirs which offer bass, catfish, crappie, bluegills, readear, sunfish, red drum, and other species of fish.
For the non-gamesman, opportunities to observe nature abound, including the spring dogwood trail, bird watching, and butterfly watching (about 20 different types of butterflies (including swallowtails, white & Sulphurs, Goassamer-wing butterflies, Brush-footed butterflies, & skippers) call Robertson County home.) Cultural / Educational / Entertainment Activities Nearby cultural, educational, and entertainment activities need to be promoted. Two presidential libraries, 20 universities and colleges, a wide variety of museums, memorials, libraries, state parks, and other interesting things to do are all within a 100-mile radius of Hearne. Special music events in Robertson and neighboring counties, including brand-name entertainers as well as theatrical road shows, offer a variety of entertainment options to satisfy a diverse palette. Hotel / Motel Tax Issues State Law Under Texas law and relevant legal interpretations, the use of local hotel occupancy tax revenues must satisfy both components of a two-part test. The first qualification under this test is as follows: Expenditures must directly enhance and promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry. In addition to the first qualification, every expenditure must also clearly fit into one of the following six statutorily provided categories: 1. Funding the establishment, improvement, or maintenance of a convention center or visitor information center; 2. Paying the administrative costs for facilitating convention registration; 3. Paying for tourism-related advertising and promotions of the city or its vicinity; 4. Funding programs that enhance the arts; 5. Funding historical restoration or preservation programs; 6. Sporting events which majority of participants are tourists in cities located in a county with a population of 65,000 or less. Items 3 and 4 above are relevant to the Hearne Chamber of Commerce. Item 3 is selfexplanatory. The legal narrative for Item 4 states: “This section authorizes the expenditure of hotel occupancy tax revenues for a variety of art-related programs. It allows funding for the encouragement, promotion, improvement, and application of the arts including instrumental and vocal music, dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture, design and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, motion pictures, radio, television, tape and sound recording, and other arts related to the presentation, performance, execution and exhibition of these major art forms.” Given the presence of the Camp Hearne and Hearne Depot historical restoration/preservation projects, the legal narrative for Item 5 is included here: “This section anticipates that a city may want to spend its hotel occupancy tax revenues to enhance historical restoration and preservation projects which would likely bring tourists to the city or to its immediate vicinity. The funding must extend to a project or activity located in the city or its immediate vicinity.
Expenditures may include the costs for rehabilitation or preservation of historic structures, as well as the cost of advertising and conducting solicitations and promotional program to encourage tourists and convention delegates to visit preserved historic sites or museums.” For cities with populations of less than 125,000, the “Additional Limits On Expenditures” section of the legal narrative is relevant. It reads as follows: “A city of under 125,000 may, in certain cases, need to allocate at least some of its hotel tax money for acquiring, constructing, improving, maintaining, or operating a convention center or a visitor information center. If a city fails to allocate money for this purpose, the Tax Code prohibits that city from allocating more than 50 percent of its hotel occupancy tax for historical restoration or preservation projects.” In a section entitled “Delegating The Management Of Funded Activities,” the legal narrative states: “The governing body of a city may, by written contract, delegate the management or supervision of programs and activities funded with revenue from the hotel occupancy tax. This delegation may be made to a person, another governmental entity, or to a private organization. The delegation of this authority is often made to the local chamber of commerce or to the convention and visitor bureau.” City Of Hearne / Chamber Of Commerce Funding Agreement On January 9, 2001, the City of Hearne entered into a “Funding Agreement” or contract with the Hearne Chamber of Commerce. The relevant part of Article II of this contract reads as follows: “CITY hereby agrees to divide equally with the CHAMBER funds actually collected and received by CITY from the Hotel/Motel occupancy tax in consideration for CHAMBER’s promotion of tourism and convention and hotel industry through attracting, promoting, developing, presenting, producing and encouraging visitor and conventions to come to the community.” Chamber Of Commerce Position The Hearne Chamber Of Commerce believes that the tourism activities outlined above are important steps toward creating a tourism program that is tailor-made to Hearne and its unique public relations and marketing needs. An over-riding goal of the envisioned program is to “put heads in beds” at local hotels, motels, inns, bed & breakfasts through a variety of creative and innovative means. The Chamber is confident that its plans to promote tourism as outlined above conform to both the letter and the spirit of the Texas Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax law and its legal interpretations as well as the requirements placed upon the Chamber in its contract with the City Of Hearne.
Note Unless otherwise indicated, all of the references to “Texas law and relevant legal interpretations” and “legal narrative” above are to the Handbook On Economic Development Laws For Texas Cities, produced by Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott, “Chapter IV: Economic Development Through Tourism,” section on “The Local Hotel Occupancy Tax,” pages 127 – 137, 2002 edition.