FLORENCE — The Florence-Lauderdale Tourism board on Thursday authorized President/CEO Rob Carnegie to negotiate with a lending institution to pay off the loan on the five-year-old visitor center.

The tourism office staff relocated to the new building in McFarland Park in June 2014.

The cost of the structure, with its exhibits, gallery, meeting room and office space, was $1.9 million.

Board Chairman Larry McCoy said the remaining loan is about $1.3 million.

"Today, we just authorized Rob to begin talking to the lending institution immediately," McCoy said. "We really need to check our options."

The board didn't discuss the issue during the open meeting, choosing to do so in an executive session. The vote was taken after the meeting was reopened, as required by law.

The board also heard from Shayla Hill, event coordinator for Robert Trent Jones, about a three-day Labor Day weekend event, the Couples Championship golf tournament.

The seventh annual event features 56 couples from across the country who are visiting the Shoals for the first time.

"We introduce them to the area and incorporate our music history and interesting attractions and entertainment," she said. "These are 112 people who normally wouldn't be coming to our area."

The couples play three rounds of golf while in the area and are selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

Carnegie reported that the tourism department has had a lag in earned media, and that it is due to a lack of new products in the Florence/Lauderdale destination, adding that "Shoals Fest (in October) should help."

Carnegie praised the work of the tourism staff, particularly Operations Manager Alison Stanfield, for organizing numerous popular events during last week's W.C. Handy Music Festival.

Stanfield said the tourism office has a good partnership with the Handy festival and the center reported about $4,000 in sales of Handy merchandise.

The visitor center and grounds played host to 16 events from SwampFest with its overflowing crowds to the Summer Solo Series, a venue for young, up and coming artists.

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