|Town questions 'tourist center' practices|
|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Friday, 16 September 2011 00:00|
The Town of Camp Verde and a Sedona time-share resort are going to try to work something out over the next 30 to 60 days over what the town argues are deceptive business practices.
The Sept. 7 Camp Verde Town Council meeting got a little heated last week over the issue of the business local critics say is luring potential tourist dollars out of town.
At the heart of the matter is a little 330-square-foot office on State Route 260 near the I-17 interchange adorned with a large sign that reads “Tourist Information.”
It’s operated by Sedona Pines, a resort that sells time-shares. While acting as a visitor center, the employees also work to get people interested in taking a tour of the Sedona property in the hopes they may decide to buy in.
There have been complaints voiced around town over the years, from tourists and residents alike, that the employees told people to not bother going into Camp Verde because there is nothing to do.
In May the Town Council approved an ordinance that would require businesses to prominently advertise their true services offered, along with preventing a business from soliciting for lodging that’s not on the same premises.
Town Manager Russ Martin said the town wants to make sure the business is operating in a way the public knows what it’s getting when they walk through the door.
“The bottom line is this is a deceptive business practice,” Martin said.
Several residents spoke about experiences they had with the business at times when they went inside and acted like tourists.
“I got absolutely nothing about Camp Verde,” said Murray Litchty. “I was steered away from it and given two maps of Sedona.”
Litchy said that there were several people waiting inside the business, compared with little to no traffic at the downtown Visitor Center when he went to check later that day.
Carlie Androus said she went into the office a couple of years ago and was also directed away from Camp Verde.
“They told me, ‘There is nothing in Camp Verde, there is no reason to go there,’” Androus said.
Executives with Sedona Pines and an attorney representing the shopping plaza’s owner came to the meeting to state their case and try to avoid any potential legal battle over the issues.
“This [ordinance] effectively puts [the] company out of business,” said Dave Gordon, attorney for the building owners. “I don’t think you should put them out of business just because you don’t like what they had to say.”
Sedona Pines Chief Operating Officer Gregory Penrod said that any negative comments made by employees were their own and were something he didn’t condone. Penrod said that his company employs numerous people in the region and directs visitors to several attractions around the area, including the ailroad, Out of Africa and Jeep tours. Penrod also offered to let the employees at the Camp Verde storefront be trained by the town in how to direct people to Camp Verde attractions and said he would print and distribute maps of the town from that location.
“We’ve developed a standard of ethics and operations,” Penrod said.
Not everyone was convinced.
Gary Thompson, a member of the Camp Verde Chamber Board of Directors said he believed the company seemed so eager to work with the town now because of the ordinance passed by the town.
“It’s training this, that and the other, now we’re talking about training,” Thompson said. “But we’ve been talking for years.”
It’s all about providing good customer service, said Sheila Stubler, manager of Fort Verde State Historic Park but speaking on her own behalf. Stubler said that if a customer can leave the time-share office satisfied with what he or she has learned, then that’s something to work for.
“I think we should look at a win-win situation for everyone,” Stubler said.
“It’s a sham,” Councilman Alan Buchanan said. “Your code of ethics and your operations don’t seem to be working well. I asked what was in Cottonwood and was told nothing but a Wal-Mart.”
Councilwoman Jackie Baker said that while she appreciated the company’s willingness to work with the town, she’s been hearing different stories from town residents and businesses.
“We trying to support the businesses and the town’s residents,” Baker said. “But it’s beginning to feel like nobody’s trying to help us.”
Gordon said that if the town tries to enforce the ordinance, he feels it’s on shaky legal ground.
The office is grandfathered in under the town’s rules, Gordon argued, and enforcing the new ordinance goes against rulings made by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Councilwoman Carol German said that the Arizona attorney general “might be interested” in the office’s business practices.
Mayor Bob Burnside, who served previously on the town’s planning and zoning commission, disagreed, saying he believed the land-use codes cited by Gordon weren’t applicable in this case.
“This isn’t a land-use issue,” Burnside said. “This is a town code issue.”
The town’s land-use codes are a separate body of rules from the town’s ordinances.
Councilwoman Robin Whatley said she had one big problem with the office.
“I love that you want to do training,” Whatley said. “But no matter what your good intentions are you still have a sign out there that’s deceptive and misleading. You can do all these things and it’s wonderful, but until that sign is changed, I’m not going to be happy. That sign needs to go.”
Penrod said that there’s already a sign on the door of the office to let people know what type of business it is. He also pointed out that the signs currently in use were approved by the town itself when they were put up.
Burnside said it’s not the town’s policy to deliberately try to run a business out of business.
“That’s shooting ourselves in the foot,” Burnside said.
Martin said he would meet with the involved parties and see what they could come up with to bring the business into compliance with town code.