Tri-state downtown conference comes to town Sept. 9-12

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Downtown Eureka Springs will be busy early next week.

Sponsored by Main Street Arkansas, the Mississippi Main Street Association and the Louisiana Main Street Program, the tri-state Destination Downtown conference will be held in Eureka Springs from Sept. 9-12. Jacqueline Wolven, executive director of Main Street Eureka Springs, said the conference welcomes downtown enthusiasts from Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

“Plus we’re inviting Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, so it’s six states we’re inviting,” Wolven said. “It’s the first time in 10 years I’ve been doing this job that I’ve seen a downtown conference come together.”

Wolven said she helped unite downtown lodging to offer special rates for those attending the conference. There are too many visitors, Wolven said, to fit into the Basin Park Hotel. Wolven is working with downtown retail shops and restaurants, too.

“We built in two mealtimes each day of the conference where the attendees will be on their own to eat at the restaurants downtown,” Wolven said. “That’s great, because most conferences provide the food. We decided they should be on their own for lunch and dinner. These people eat and drink and play, so it’ll be fun. It’ll be dense downtown.”

There will be excursions to Bentonville, Rogers and Branson, Wolven said.

“That’s good, because it shows we can be a hub for regional travel,” she said. “We want to emphasize that people can stay here but play everywhere.”

The conference will give a peek into how hospitality runs in Eureka Springs, featuring a tour of the Crescent Hotel.

“They’re going to see all the things you don’t see when you’re a guest, which is fun for these people,” Wolven said. “These are historic hotel people. These are preservation people. They want to see the nuts and bolts of it all.”

Mayor Butch Berry will speak on preservation, Wolven said, and Sandy Martin will talk about the importance of having an arts council.

“People want to be an arts destination, but they don’t know how,” Wolven said. “I hope [Martin] gives us some insight.”

Wolven said there will be a bike ride and interactive art project downtown, saying Main Street Eureka Springs wants the entire community to reap the rewards of the conference.

“This helps everyone rise. We really want everybody to win,” Wolven said. “I think people see that we’re not trying to take anything away. We want it all to be right here.”

She continued, “My goal is that all of Eureka blossoms. I like to think of it as a sunflower. Downtown is the center, but the petals have to be just as important. My eye is definitely in the center, and I want that to thrive, but only so it all thrives.”

Wolven remembered winning the bid to host the conference last year. She didn’t expect to win, Wolven said, because she was competing against many larger areas.

“These conferences tend to be in more urban areas, because they have more lodging and more hospitality,” Wolven said. “But we put together a killer proposal and we wanted it so bad. I think they saw that. I put a lot of players together to show it was a joint effort. It’s not just about Main Street. It’s about everybody.”

It’s important to note the conference is happening midweek, Wolven said.

“Our weekends are good in Eureka. They always have been,” Wolven said. “But midweek is a little slower. If we could get more midweek conferences or meetings, I think that would be so great.”

She’s enjoyed working with everyone in the community to get the conference going, Wolven said, and she hopes those who attend the conference take away new ideas.

“I want them to know we’re the best downtown in the region, if not the U.S.,” Wolven said. “I want them to know this is hard work and it’s worth it. I want them to know investing in a downtown is a good thing.”

She continued, “A lot of these people … the work they do can be discouraging. It’s hard to do this every day, but I want them to go back and say, ‘I can do that in my place,’ and to come back. We always want them to come back.”

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