Home Breaking News Eclipse ‘amazing, beautiful’ but turnout disappointing, costly

Eclipse ‘amazing, beautiful’ but turnout disappointing, costly

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Photo from Main Street in Nashville April 8, John Balch, News-Leader

By P.J. Tracy

Murfreesboro Diamond

MURFREESBORO – For two years, the whole state of Arkansas and locally in southwest Arkansas, the state Department of Tourism kept repeating that local communities in the path of totality for the April 8 eclipse needed to prepare for tourists in numbers they had never seen before.

In retrospect, not so much.

“We were disappointed with the numbers [of tourists] … State Parks and Tourism and the Department of Transportation over-exaggerated these numbers greatly,” said Murfreesboro Mayor Jim O’Neal.

“We spent a lot of money – taxpayer money — preparing for something that didn’t happen.”

While an exact figure is not available for O’Neal at the time of the interview, estimated that city costs could reach up to $15,000, that included $10,000 on portapotties alone, as well as the costs of extra dumpsters, comp time for city employees and overtime for police officers’ extra shifts.

“It’s money that could have been used somewhere else,” O’Neal said succinctly. “It was an overall disappointment.”

Outside the tourist numbers, all went well during the celestial event, as O’Neal said “everyone behaved themselves” and that the Crater of Diamonds State Park was well attended.

“Some of those people came to town, I think Caddo Antiques and the Feed Bin Restaurant did very well, but I think they were the only two [businesses in Murfreesboro] to get a really good profit out of it. It was not really any different than a Fourth of July weekend.”

The issue was not limited to Murfreesboro either, as O’Neal said he had made contact with a number of local mayors that were less than thrilled with attendance.

“Nashville was very disappointed, as was Arkadelphia that had very low numbers.

“De Queen had a hub of people expected to come in there, because they had the longest eclipse time, and while they did have some visitors, it was not near what they anticipated. Overall, I think the whole state was disappointed … perhaps you can theorize that with the economy like it is – the price of groceries and gasoline up – that people just didn’t follow the eclipse like they did in in 2017 when economic times were better.

“So we could theoretically blame it on the economy or the weather forecast with the anticipation of possible rain kept some from coming. No one would want to travel hundreds of miles to get rained out.”

Mayor O’Neal added that the location of the live music events at the Cash Savers parking lot may have been better placed at the former City Service Station on the square as the events were not well attended due to perhaps “miscommunication.”

“Very few people came to hear the very talented local groups, and most of them were locals that attended.”

He added that the eclipse itself was “amazing and beautiful” and that he was happy the weather cooperated with the viewing efforts.

“We were so afraid looking at the week leading up to the event it looked like it was going to rain, and then it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for an eclipse. There were things we could have done differently, but everything went as well as you could expect it to go. It was a very pleasant and peaceful event that could have been much worse.”

O’Neal complimented the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce and its president Lisa Harvill with “a lot of hard work, putting events together very well, so she deserves recognition for her efforts.”

He also noted the city’s street and sanitation department did a wonderful job of keeping things tidy as part of the overall plan to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

“I want to brag on them — they kept the town very clean, emptying garbage cans every morning and evening … that was one of the concerns amongst myself and my fellow mayors is that people would come here and throw garbage all over the place that we’d spend two weeks trying to pick up. We didn’t have that as an issue.”

Both Pike County judge Eddie Howard and Pike County Emergency Management/9-1-1 coordinator Lee Vincent said on the county level that everything went smoothly during the event, and that despite the overestimation of potential tourist numbers, that it all came out well in light of the preparation that had encompassed over two years of planning.

Harvill, for her part, wished to focus on the positive, stating that it was a “good weekend” for retail and restaurants locations in Murfreesboro that could compare with a holiday weekend during the tourist season.

“While we had less people here for the eclipse than expected, there were still many people here and we were very prepared. We put our best foot forward and made a good impression on the visitors and hopefully they will make a return trip in the future.”

Harvill also announced the winners of the April 7 duck race on the Little Missouri River that included:

First — Daniel Myers

Second — Dolly Johnson

Third — Terry Cox

The chamber’s “eclipsoween” event went well, with the reprise of last October’s haunted house.

“The majority of visitors were out-of-towners and they had really great things to say and enjoyed the event. One person who said she was a haunted house aficionado claimed it was one of the best she’d ever been to.”

Ultimately, Harvill was happy with the fact that everyone had a good time and there were no mishaps reported.

“I’m glad the eclipse is behind us and we can move on to the Keith Stone Memorial Car Show on April 26-27.”

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