Meet the Darlington County Tourism Director
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
The new Darlington County Tourism Director, Jessica Cohen, has been attending meetings around the county, and meeting people with her signature bright smile. Since transitioning from her position as communications specialist for the chamber, a position she held for a year and half, to tourism director, she has hit the ground running- but in heels rather than the sneakers she wore while playing basketball for her alma mater, Coker College.
“We have a lot to offer here,” said Cohen at her office at the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce. “We have the ability to host many sports events. My goal is to push the county as a sports and recreation destination. Those types of events require so much man power, people coming in, officials, fans, participants- they are staying here, eating here, so we are hoping to rack up on accommodations taxes. That’s the goal.”
Cohen hails from Charleston, a city well known for tourism.
Chamber president Quinetta Buterbaugh is proud of her initiatives, “Jessica has been busy attending county and town councils in each area of the county, and is doing a great job getting to know everyone, and finding out their needs.”
The tourism position is funded in part by accommodation tax revenue from Darlington County, and the City of Hartsville hospitality and accommodations taxes.
The two new hotels coming to Hartsville will increase those numbers; the Mantissa Suites opening date is set for April, and the large Hampton Inn on the corner of 4th Street and Carolina Avenue is set to open in May.
“The Mantissa Suites are designed as luxury suites for executives coming in for Sonoco, Duke-Energy and Nucor,” said Cohen. “The Hampton will join the Fairfield Inn and other local accommodations as places we hope to fill with participants in our future plans for sporting events.”
Future events that Cohen shared will have a huge economic impact in the county, including:
The Southeastern Baseball Tournament: March 30 – April 3 at the Jimmy White Field at Hartsville High School.
“Six out of eight teams will be staying in our county for that time,” said Cohen. “And the only reason it is not all eight is because Hartsville and Darlington are both in it.” This event will have an economic impact of $75,000.
The Angel Gala: an initiative of OneHartsville will be held May 2, and more details will be released as soon as they are finalized. The event will be a formal dance/prom for young people with disabilities will be open to students from all over the county, and the state.
The Dixie Ponytail World: July 24 – 31 at Byerly Park.
“July will be a busy month for Byerly Park.” said Cohen.
National Bikers Round Up: August 5- 9, at Darlington Drag Strip on Highway 151.
“This event will bring 20,000 – 25,000 motorcyclists into our county. Each year it takes place in a different location, and South Carolina won the bid for 2015- and they chose Darlington County because of the Drag Strip.” said Cohen. The event will have an economic impact of approximately $3 to 5 million dollars. All participants will participate in camping, stunt shows, exhibits, seminars and entertainment.
“They will be involved in many charity activities while they are here that will benefit our area,” said Cohen. “That includes back to school supply drives, and food drives. Last year they raised 11 million pounds of food, and this year they want to top that. All will stay in this county. I want to embrace them and keep them here. Of course we cannot accommodate them all, many will spill over to Camden, Florence, and other areas- but we want to keep them here -and spending their money here- as much as possible.”
Bojangles Southern 500: Labor Day weekend, Darlington Raceway.
Masters National Retriever: a 10-day dog competition October 15 – 25.
“Most of the event will take place out of the county, but the dogs, owners, participants and judges will all stay locally.” Gray Oak Boarding and Training is partnering in the event. The economic impact of that event will be approximately $1.2 – 1.3 million dollars.
Artsville: these art-house musical events are small, intimate gatherings but bring in entertainers from all over the nation.
“We have a ton of sporting events coming up,” said Cohen. “We want to allow residents to know the events coming up, and we want to know the participants’ demands, so when we have an influx of people coming we can tell them where to shop, where to eat, and what to see.”
She plans to join the South Carolina Sports Alliance in July to lobby on behalf of what she sees as under-utilized facilities and encourage more sporting events to consider this area.
She is already part of the Blue Ways Project committee, which is part of the Healthier Communities initiative working to improve the waterways between Cheraw and Society Hill to make them more accessible for canoes and kayaks.
“We are working out the details now, and should be kicking off as the summer begins.” she said.
Cohen stated she is also working on bird watching tours for Williamson Park.
Cohen participated as a judge for the Christmas Lights competition in Society Hill, and sat in on the Catfish Festival meetings.
She has sat in on planning for Egg Scramble in Lamar. “I’m not as active there yet,” said Cohen. “We were not as present in Lamar in the past.”
Cohen said she encouraged the Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association and the Main Street Hartsville groups to coordinate their downtown holiday shopping efforts along with the American Express shop small weekend. “This year I advertised in Columbia at Christmas time, and will do that again next year- it’s a short drive for people to come here and shop.”
Cohen is currently enrolled in Coker’s new sports administration master’s degree program. Her future plans include a career in sports tourism.
“I hope to gain some experience here, and head into the sports tourism direction,” said Cohen. “I’m a huge sports fanatic.” She enjoys coaching her basketball team of young children at Thomas Hart Academy.
Cohen asks that residents of the county send tourism related events to her to promote on her website. “I want to sit down with as many people as possible, and help get the word out. We are all in this together.”
Cohen may be reached at her office at the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, 214 North 5th Street, Hartsville, 843-332-6559. The website is: www.darlingtoncounty.org