Virginia’s Retreat looking at non-profit Status

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Virginia’s Retreat is looking to shed its status as a governmental entity and become a non-profit organization as it looks for ways to generate more money for tourism development.

“With ever-tightening budgets, there is no opportunity for our local governing bodies to increase the funding we currently receive,” said Magi Van Eps, chairperson of the organization. “With non-profit status, Virginia’s Retreat will be able to attract more funding which will allow us to more aggressively market the Central and Southern Virginia region to visitors.”

The member-governments are being asked to pass resolutions allowing the change. Lunenburg is among the boards that have already done so.

Tax exempt 501(c)3 status would allow the group to seek funds from foundations and go beyond the allocations it gets from member localities.

“In two to three years, with this additional funding, Virginia’s Retreat would be able to seek out and hire an executive director, develop the recognizable brand, and create a targeted marketing campaign designed to increase tourism and visitation to the region on a much larger scale than current funding allows,” Van Eps said.

The change to a non-profit entity is one of the recommendations of a strategic plan developed over two years by Virginia’s Retreat and Southeastern Institute of Research, a marketing research firm out of Richmond.

Virginia’s Retreat is the marketing consortium promoting tourism in the Central and Southside

communities of Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Dinwiddie, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Prince Edward and the city of Petersburg.

The organization has invested the annual $4,500 dues per community in various marketing efforts with a goal of increasing visitation to the region’s attractions.

This $54,000 a year, plus an additional $26,000 a year from Virginia Tourism Corporation via their Marketing Leverage Grant program, has been used to expand marketing efforts by developing a new website driving business to the region and to the individual member communities; a new travel guide expounding on not just Civil War, but the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail, eight state parks, golf courses, wineries, and the many outdoor adventure opportunities that fill this region. Virginia’s Retreat is working to develop a Music Trail, showcasing the bluegrass, country and folk music of the area, Eps said.

“There are many sites in the Virginia’s Retreat region that could be brought together in a new ‘trail’ enticing yet another segment of visitors to the region for added value,” Eps said. “However, $80,000 a year isn’t enough funding to make that happen.  So, a grant was written to the Tobacco Commission seeking funding for a Strategic Tourism Plan that would guide Virginia’s Retreat to grow the organization.”

No final decision has been made “but obtaining approval from our local governments to begin the process, is step one,” Eps said.

So far, seven member communities have adopted have signed off on the petition. Besides Lunenburg, they area: Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte and Dinwiddie.  The issue is on the agenda for the Mecklenburg and Prince Edward board of supervisors meetings this month, and Nottoway is expected to discuss the resolution at a workshop this month.

“As we put the building blocks into place, we will continue to report to our governing boards, keeping (them) apprised of our progress,” Eps said. “In this way, we hope to build not only support from within, but excitement regarding growing our region into a sought after destination in Central and Southern Virginia.”