The Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) recognized those who made a positive impact on the area's tourism and hospitality industry Thursday.
The organization presented its 2017 Giving Recognition in Tourism (GRIT) awards at a special banquet at the Fort Smith Convention Center at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The Fort Smith CVB hosts the event to honor individuals and organizations that have demonstrated true grit through their contributions to the region’s growing tourism and hospitality industry, according to a news release.
Categories for the awards included Restaurant Partner of the Year, Lodging Partner of the Year, Attraction Partner of the Year, Business Partner of the Year and the Polly Crews Hospitality Person of the Year. There were three finalists for each of these categories.
In addition, a new award was presented during the ceremony called the New Horizons Award. In his opening address, Claude Legris, the executive director for the Fort Smith CVB, said this category was created to pay tribute to many people who have benefited the Fort Smith tourism industry since the last GRIT awards ceremony in 2016.
"... And the way we do that is each member of the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff makes a nomination," Legris said. "We submit all of those nominations to our (Advertising and Promotions) commissioners, all seven of them. They vote by secret ballot and mailed it into the mayor's office. ..."
The awards were presented by Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders. The Restaurant Partner of the Year Award went to StoneHouse at Chaffee Crossing, the Lodging Partner of the Year Award went to Hampton Inn Fort Smith, the Attraction Partner of the Year went to The Unexpected, the Business Partner of the Year Award went to Propak/64.6 Downtown and the Polly Crews Hospital Person of the Year Award went to Beth Templeton of Belle Starr Antiques.
There were five finalists for the New Horizons Award. In the end, it went to Steve Clark, Claire Kolberg and John McIntosh of 64.6 Downtown for The Unexpected and the Garrison Commons pocket park.
The ceremony also took the time to recognize residents who were designated Hometown Hospitality Heroes for the past year. They were previously featured on the Fort Smith CVB's official blog.
"Once a quarter, we feature a group or a person or organization who has made a substantial contribution to our tourism industry in the past year," Legris said.
These heroes included Mike Bock for more than 20 years of leadership related to the Sebastian County Girls Softball Association and its national tournaments, Prissy Buchanan for her efforts to ensure Fort Smith would become and remain one of two destinations where the Arkansas Bandmasters Association hosts its annual four-day convention and Lee Dewey for his contributions to Fort Smith’s tourism and hospitality industry through Fort Smith Juniors Volleyball and its large-scale sports tournaments.
The group also included Lawbreakers & Peacemakers for its contributions to Fort Smith’s tourism and hospitality industry by preserving and promoting local heritage with Old West reenactments.