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Moving forward by looking back

4/01/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

People in Savannah, Ga., don't doubt the power of the printed word, not since the publication in 1994 of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book, which resided on the Publishers Weekly hardcover bestseller list for 171 weeks, launched a tourism boom in this historic Southeastern city that has bolstered the area's economy, according to Tony Schopp, president of the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau. "In 1993, we had 2.1 million visitors who spent about $500 million," Schopp says. "We expect that we had over 3 million overnight visitors in this town in 2000. That's probably about $1 billion in terms of economic impact."

Stan Crumley, president/general manager of WSAV-TV, agrees: "It is amazing what that book has done for this town." Since the city doesn't want to depend solely on leisure travelers for its tourism economy, about a year ago, it built an International Trade & Convention Center. At 330,000 square feet, it's said to be the largest convention center between Fort Lauderdale, Fla, and Myrtle Beach, S.C. But Savannah isn't a one-industry town. In addition to tourism, the area has strong manufacturing and military segments as well as the thriving Port of Savannah.

Although the healthy economy has been good for television stations, there has been a recent slowdown. "Most of our downturn in the last four or five months has been with national spot. When major categories like automotive and fast food are buying less, then we're going to get hurt. But I think that locally the market is probably holding its own," Crumley says.

William Cathcart, WTOC-TV VP/GM, has a different take: "We've been blessed with very good national spot. If there's any softness, it's been on the local side. I think Savannah probably began the [economic] decline earlier than the rest of the country, And the converse of that is that I fully expect that we will come out of it ahead of the rest of the country. So that enables me to be optimistic and positive about our prospects for the rest of the year."

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