Gainesville Daily Register

June 4, 2012

Publisher's Pen 6-3

Tourism's best kept secret

By JIM PERRY, Publisher
Gainesville Daily Register

Gainesville — Well, they’ve finally done it. After years of political maneuvering and pressure from lobbyists, Texas agreed last year to raise the speed limit on certain highways back to 75 miles per hour. Many thought this would be a good thing.

On I-35 in Cooke County the 75 MPH signs began going up this week. This may have just been an attempt to make the average speed on this roadway legal. No matter when I venture out onto I-35,  I’m dodging the crazies who cruise at 80 or 85. The truckers usually give a courtesy flash of the headlights to warn about the Smokey at the top of the hill between Gainesville and Valley View.  Then everyone hits the brake lights and gives a wave in his direction for good measure.

It would be interesting to know the traffic counts passing Gainesville on I-35 each and every day. Northbound traffic toward Thackerville and the casino, Ardmore, Norman and OKC would be a huge number. Likewise, those headed for Denton and the Metroplex fly through here like nobody’s business.  That’s one way to look at it: if they don’t stop then it’s nobody’s business… literally.

We could use some signage.

In the big scheme of things, there’s just too much information for any of us to comprehend at any one time. We need hints, suggestions, pushing and prodding. We need to let folks know about the amenities of our unique city. There are just too many good things about our city that go unnoticed and we’re losing business because of this. Aside from the billboards, if you travel I-35 through Gainesville you get little or no information about our city.

“Historic downtown Gainesville next exit” would be a nice start. “Frank Buck Zoo next right” would work well for us on I-35. Exit markers for North Central Texas College and Gainesville High School also seem appropriate. We have the Morton Museum and Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer.

I spoke with TXDOT area engineer Mike Hallum about the guidelines for such a proposal and he was eager to share his information with me. You’ve got the green informational signage with one set or rules for cities under 15,000 (rural) and a stricter set for populations of 15,000 to 50,00 (suburban) and so on. You’ve also got the brown signs which are primarily used for cultural or recreational destinations. Butterfield Stage has one of these on California Street. Hallum says the rules are more formalized to get signage on the Interstate, but it can be done if a city makes a formal request to make it happen.

We should make this happen in some form. Gainesville is a destination and should be promoted as such.

A recent magazine inserted into this newspaper focused on nine cities surrounding the Metroplex and promoted their amenities to attract tourism. Gainesville was among these cities along with Athens, Cleburne, Corsicana, Greenville, Jacksonville, Mineral Wells, Palestine and Weatherford. We shine in that crowd. We’re the only one with a zoo. We’re the only one with a hot-air balloon festival—that’s right, it’s coming Sept. 7th. Our historic downtown is second to none. The horse industry here is one of the largest in the world. We’ve got a lot going on in Gainesville.

If you’re paying attention, you know that Gainesville is going in a positive direction. We’re gaining in Gainesville. This is the time when we should maximize every asset we have to make our city the very best it can be. Tourism is one of these factors that cannot be ignored. Some say it is the most often overlooked economic development tool that there is. It is our under utilized advantage.

If you travel this summer, take a look at how other cities are doing it. How are they promoting themselves. Right in our own backyard, cities like Grapevine, McKinney and Frisco have something going on all the time and have marketed themselves successfully. We should learn from their efforts. We can’t get on everyone’s radar overnight, but we can begin to build up our events and publicize what’s going on. I applaud the Chamber’s Summer Sounds Concert Series and the Morton Museum for their upcoming Friday night event series. I must add: If you haven’t been to the zoo, shame on you!

Gainesville is truly unique in my list of Texas towns. We’re not a McKinney or a Cleburne. We don’t need to be. We’ve got all it takes right here but it certainly wouldn’t hurt a thing to get our act together and reach out to those potential visitors passing us by everyday on I-35 and US 82.

Are we in Gainesville yet? Yes, I think we are.