When the Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors convene for a special-call meeting Monday at 3 p.m. at the CVB offices, members hope to clear up some confusion about both the immediate and long-term future of the Columbus Pilgrimage.
Ever since the newly-formed Preservation Society of Columbus (PSC), made up of residents whose homes have been a part of the Pilgrimage Tour of Homes for years, announced its intentions of taking over Pilgrimage operations in 2021, the debate over how and when that transition will take place has been a subject of confusion.
The Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, whose board and director are the same as the CVB, has operated the event since 2008. Last month, PSC notified CVB of their plans to take over Pilgrimage and requested $117,000 per year, the amount CVB allocates CCHF to put on the event. On Oct. 14, the CCHF board voted to relinquish control of the Pilgrimage immediately, something the PSC had not requested, leaving the fate of the 80th Pilgrimage in the spring of 2020 uncertain.
CCHF board members also said the organizations did not have the funds to give PSC.
“Our position was that we wanted to take over in 2021,” said PSC board member Kathy Novotny, who owns the antebellum home Temple Heights on Ninth Street North. “It was never our intention to take control of the Pilgrimage in 2020. We weren’t prepared for that. We’ll participate, as we always have, by opening our homes, but that’s as far as we ever intended to go as far as the 2020 Pilgrimage goes.”
On Oct. 21, PSC president Dick Leike appeared before the CCHF board to try to clarify his group’s position and talk about the transition, but the board voted to table the motion with no further discussion.
Friday, CVB/CCHF board member Whirllie Byrd, who opposed tabling the motion at that meeting, called a special meeting of the CVB to re-open those discussions on Monday.
Although Leike and PSC members have attended two CCHF meetings, Monday’s will be the first appearance before the CVB, which provides the funds used to conduct Pilgrimage.
“What we are asking for is for the CVB to provide the same funding for our nonprofit that it has provided for another nonprofit for the same purposes — putting on the Pilgrimage,” Novotny said.
The meeting should also clear up the confusion about which entity will operate the 2020 Pilgrimage.
CCHF has already started preparations for the event, including spending $65,000 on advertising.
CVB executive director Nancy Carpenter said her group expects to conduct Pilgrimage in 2020 as it has always done.
“These are just my personal thoughts, but it’s a board decision, but I can see (the heritage foundation) managing Pilgrimage (in 2020),” she said. “I know the board told (PSC), ‘You can have it now,’ but they said they didn’t want it now. So it seems to me, again just my thought, that we should go ahead and manage it.”
Carpenter said she had hoped both the PSC and CCHF boards could meet informally to settle differences, but Novotny said the PSC prefers to meet publicly.
“Our position is that while we know both parties need to sit down and work out solutions, it needs to be in a public meeting,” she said. “We want this to be open and transparent and that means having it as a public meeting.”
Other Pilgrimage events
While Monday’s meeting should provide answers about who will operate the Pilgrimage next spring and funding for the event once the PSC takes over, another question emerges.
Since CCHF began operating Pilgrimage in 2008, several other events have been added to the Pilgrimage schedule outside of the tour of homes, such as a kickoff crawfish party, a 5K run, horse-drawn carriage rides, double-decker bus tours and Tales From the Crypt, which is a production of The Mississippi School for Math and Science.
Novotny said it’s unclear how many of those events will be a part of the Pilgrimage once the PSC takes over operations.
“We are looking at different things that support Pilgrimage,” she said. “I think what you will see are the types of things that connect to history, which is really what the Pilgrimage is all about. I’m not sure the things the Heritage Foundation are doing always make that connection, although there are probably some things we would want to keep, like the double-decker bus tours and the carriage rides. Tales From the Crypt certainly is something that fits into the history of Pilgrimage, too, and we would want to keep that going.”
Novotny said non-home tour events should play a well-defined role.
“We know that we want to have more than just the tour of homes for people to do,” she said. “… But the home tours are the heart of Pilgrimage and attendance has been dropping. Our main goal is to build that back up and all the other things should support that.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.