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Batesville City Council hears tourism update, honors Van Thomas

Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh and the Batesville City Council honored a man who has been instrumental in economic development in the region for decades at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Van C. Thomas retired Jan. 31 after 48 years with White River Planning and Development District. Originally hired as an economic planner, he was later appointed director of economic development. In 1976, he was named executive director, the position he held until his retirement.

Mayor Elumbaugh said in his presentation that the success of the district’s projects could be attributed to Thomas. He said Thomas established many valuable relationships at the local, state and national level that led to funding of many projects.

Thomas was instrumental in the development of some of the district’s largest projects, including the Ozark Folk Center, White River Medical Center, FutureFuel Chemical Company, Ozark Mountain Poultry, Fairfield Bay Community Center, Newport Rail Spur, and Stone County Excel Boats.

Mayor-Van thomas.jpgBatesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh with Van Thomas, retiring executive director of White River Planning and Development

Three county judges were present at Tuesday’s council meeting to express their appreciation to Thomas. They were Independence County Judge Robert Griffin, Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips and Woodruff County Judge Charles Dallas. Elumbaugh also read a letter from Gov. Asa Hutchinson commending Thomas for his work.

Thomas resides in Batesville with his wife, Nancy.

Griffin-Thomas.jpgIndependence County Judge Robert Griffin (left) with Van Thomas

In other action, the council approved the purchase of land next to the City Yard at 40 General St. The 8.68-acre tract will allow the city to consolidate its maintenance and storage facilities into one location, thus increasing efficiency and decreasing costs. The cost of the land is $231,250.

Three reappointments were announced after an executive session. Reappointed were Ron Lewallen to the Historic District Commission, Greg Mohlke to the Parks and Recreation Commission, and Debbie Harrison to the Advertising and Promotion Commission.

In other council news, Batesville recently won four of six Trendsetter City awards presented at an Arkansas Municipal League meeting in Fort Smith.

The awards were by Arkansas Business Publishing Group and the presenting sponsor is Crews & Associates investment bankers.

Paul Phillips, senior managing director of the company presented Mayor Rick Elumbaugh and the city council with four wall hangings to commemorate the awards.

The four categories that Batesville won were wellness for the new community center and aquatics park, infrastructure for its wastewater treatment facility, public safety for the Batesville Police Department, and environmental for the wastewater improvement project, the community center and the development of walking and biking trails.

The two categories Batesville did not win were education/workforce and tourism.

However, the city might be in the running for tourism next time thanks to the efforts of the Advertising and Promotion Commission.

Tourism Director Kyle Christopher and Crystal Johnson, CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, gave a tourism update to the council Tuesday.

kyle and crystal.jpgCrystal Johnson, CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, (left), and Kyle Christopher, tourism director, address the city council. / Images by Bob Qualls

The A&P Commission collects a tax on lodging. The revenue it produces will be used to promote tourism.

Christopher said tourism development involves building relationships with schools, colleges, the city Parks Department and others. For instance, he is encouraging schools to host state sports tournaments. Last year, Southside High School hosted a state volleyball tournament. Christopher said they have been awarded softball and baseball tournaments for this year.

The tournaments bring people into town that stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants.

The A&P commission has established event recruitment grants and has been working on branding the tourism effort. This includes the creation of a logo and a website to promote the area. It also plans to install wayfinding signage around the city in 2018.

Reporting by Bob Qualls

Get up-to-date local and regional news along with the latest weather every weekday morning by listening to Gary B. and Ozark Newsline on Arkansas 103.393 KZLE, and other W.R.D. Entertainment radio stations. If you have a news tip or event to promote, email White River Now at

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