I have followed very closely the articles and discussions of Visit Lake Norman with great interest. As a former Huntersville town board member, serving two terms from 1993 until 1996, I played a small role in what has evolved today into a very effective tourism development authority. In 1994, I was asked to represent the town of Huntersville on the Lake Norman chamber board, then referred to as the North Mecklenburg Chamber. That year, our towns partnered with the chamber and created the Visitors Center, which was located in Cornelius.

The towns contributed a percentage of the accommodations tax funding to the Chamber to operate the Visitors Center and to market the area for travel and tourism. It was the foundation from which the Lake Norman Convention & Visitors Bureau (Visit Lake Norman) would be created in 2001. I chaired the committee that hired our chamber of commerce president.

Today, I operate Lake Realty and have taken a back seat to local politics. However, I take great pride in thinking I played a part in helping shape our dynamic business community. I have witnessed that small chamber of commerce with less than 300 members become one of the state’s most influential chambers, boasting more than 1,100 members. I have seen how effective Visit Lake Norman is for the hotels and restaurants creating events, which in 2009-10 brought $11.9 million in visitors spending to our region.

My agency is located next door to the Lake Norman Visitors Center and I can personally attest to the visitors and newcomers who utilize the resources of the bureau. We are so fortunate to have such dynamic organizations their capable, qualified staff.

That said, I must also commend the community and elected leaders who served on the boards, both on a town level and on the board of directors of those two organizations who made decisions, which have proven to be sound investments for our region.

A bill in Raleigh is being considered which could solidify the funding of a proven, effective organization that creates significant economic impact for our towns and its business community. While I understand local politicians often resist giving up what they perceive is their control over tax dollars, I would ask them to have the political courage to do what is right and ensure the proper funding of Visit Lake Norman.

Supporting House Bill 508 will remove travel and tourism as the subject of such unnecessary debate and derision between the towns, hotel owners, business leaders and elected officials themselves. Travel and tourism, with the jobs and dollars it provides,  must be supported and given the opportunity to grow.

– Frank Free, Lake Realty, Denver