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Cultural Alliance turned down


Published:   |   Updated: June 28, 2013 at 09:15 AM

SEBRING - Although they liked the projects, Tourism Development Council members did not approve a proposal from Fred Leavitt and gave partial funding Thursday to a request from Casey Wohl and Lora Todd.

Leavitt, who is president of the Heartland Cultural Alliance, got testy after being rejected for $5,000 that would have produced a library exhibit explaining the Lake Wales Ridge.

A million years ago, when ocean levels were higher, geologists believe Florida was just a series of island 150 miles long and a few miles wide, extending through current-day Osceola, Orange, Lake Counties, Polk and Highlands counties. The ridge is still the highest point in peninsular Florida.

Leavitt asked librarians around the state if they would be interested in the exhibit, but found they didn't know about the ridge.

"They'd never heard of it. They'd heard of Lake Wales," he said. The ridge was named for the city, its central point.

"With this exhibit and our brochure, we are making the ridge our own," Leavitt said. He recommended printing 3,000 brochures for $1,000.

The Heartland Cultural Alliance sent artists and photographers to produce 50 paintings and photos of owls, insects, lakes and sunsets. The exhibit would attract eco-tourists such as bird watchers, he predicted.

The council peppered Leavitt with questions and suggestions. Christine Hatfield wanted him to prominently display Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid's name. "It would be nice if it was on the front."

Would artists sell their prints for profit? Are there sponsors for the exhibit, and how much did they give?

Leavitt said he and the other artist are volunteers. They don't have time to seek sponsors, but the Sierra Club, Mosaic and Marriott are interested.

"Prints will be made available," Leavitt said. "That's more money coming into the county. Hey, I think it's a good thing."

"There won't be a price on each print though," Elwell said.

"We're trying to keep it, as much as possible, an educational thing," Leavitt replied.

"We don't want to promote a commercial enterprise," Elwell said.

"Let me just ask in point-blank fashion, if we would agree to $5,000, would you or anybody else get salaries?" Elwell asked.

Leavitt's idea was to send four artists to set up the exhibits, speak with patrons and local reporters, then come back two months later to move the exhibits to another library. The money would be distributed according to need, Leavitt said.

Leavitt also asked the county to set up a landing page on its website for eco-tourism.

"How much will it cost us?" Hatfield asked.

"Most Web companies charge $125 to $150 per hour," Elwell replied.

Heston moved to pay $1,000 for the brochures, not the $5,000 Leavitt asked.

"No deal," Leavitt said. "You're making a counter offer, and I'm not accepting it."

Elwell tried to calm Leavitt by suggesting he meet with Scherlacher again.

"I've met with him," Leavitt said. "We've put a year's worth effort into producing the raw materials, producing the prints, at no expense to you guys. We've put a lot of time and money in the images."

"The problem we have is the guidelines," Elwell explained. "A few things in your proposal don't meet those."

v vWohl and Todd also advanced an ambitious proposal: to jointly handle all the event management duties for six new downtown Sebring events in the next fiscal year. These six would target Sebring's year-round residents to created a strong brand identity and promote economic growth.

"What we are doing is not moving the needle very much," Wohl said.

Wohl and Todd proposed a partnership with the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency, the city of Sebring, the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce, the Highlands County TDC and Wohl's Gray Dog Communications and Todd's Plan B Promotions.

"From the CRA, we are requesting funding from in-county advertising, marketing materials, promotional items and music enhancement," Wohl said. The chamber would provide staffing and an event sponsorship. The city could provide funding and event fees, and the TDC would fund out-of-county promotion and advertising money.

Their budget requests: $2,400 per event from the CRA; $1,000 per event from the chamber; $5,000 per event from the city; and $3,000 to $5,000 per event from the TDC.

Spitballing a list of events, Wohl suggested a "Great Gatsby" party on the Friday night of the Roaring '20s festival. She suggested the Circle Theatre and the Highlands Little Theater would show a 1920s movie like Gatsby or stage a 1920s play. On Saturday, a Bootleggers Ball. At Christmas, a circle lighting ceremony, a cookie fest with Palms of Sebring, a holiday boat parade, a downtown jingle and mingle and pets on parade.

On July 4, she suggested sand sculpting on the beach, a VIP fireworks viewing area, a hot dog eating contest and a beautiful baby bathing suit contest.

Hotel packages would encourage overnight stays, she said.

However, Wohl agreed, none could probably support the 400 room nights that would currently be required to support a grant.

"I don't know how we do this without changing the guidelines," Heston said.

The council voted for a motion to provide $1,000 in funding for each event.

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