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One Spark brings $1.8 million in tourism
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One Spark brings $1.8 million in tourism

One Spark brings $1.8 million in tourism
Photo Credit: Jeremy Ratliff

One Spark brings $1.8 million in tourism

Could Jacksonville have created a new signature event to stack up with Florida/Georgia or other local staples?

“It’s still a prominently local event, but we are seeing more visitation being driven from outside of the county,” says Visit Jacksonville Spokesman Ron Whittington.

The One Spark festival which took over Downtown Jacksonville in April saw an estimated 260,000 attendees. A survey conducted by UNF and funded through Visit Jax found about 51,000 in that crowd came from outside of Duval.

“They come in and visit, they spend money at restaurants, they rent cars,” Whittington says.

In all, the survey estimates the economic impact of the tourism from One Spark at around $1.8 million, including 1600 hotel nights booked.

“We’re going to build on that next year,” Whittington says.

He says they were pleased to see how much tourism around that event had grown from the first year of the festival to the second, and with the organizers bringing it to Berlin now, Whittington expects tourism will climb even further.

He says moving in to next year they will be increasing their marketing along the east coast to drive continued tourism for this event. They’re also conducting surveys at other events, like the recent “Welcome to Rockville” concert, to better understand who travels to Jacksonville.

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  • Was it corruption or betrayal? There is a fundamental question that’s been brought to light through opening statements at the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown- exactly how much did she know about her personal finances and affairs. The question becomes central, as her defense paints the picture of a Chief of Staff in over his head and acting behind Brown’s back, while prosecutors say it would be impossible for her not to know about the source of the tens of thousands of dollars she was allegedly benefiting from. CONTINUING COVERAGE: The trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva started his argument talking about Brown being hailed as a trailblazer for her historic election in the 90s. He spoke about the committees she served in her more than two decades with the House of Representatives, and the reputation she built to deliver for her constituents. “We wish that was the end of the story,” Duva said. “There’s another side- corruption, greed, and a significant entitlement attitude. That’s what this case is about. It’s about lying, cheating, and stealing.” Duva says Brown leveraged her position and relationships she built as a Congresswoman to solicit money for a “bogus” charity “One Door for Education”, without ever telling donors the money wasn’t being used on scholarships and other things to help disadvantaged children. Instead, prosecutors say the money was being used for parties, travel, shopping trips, and more of Brown and a few others. Duva says Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons would frequently drive to an ATM in his Virginia hometown and withdraw the maximum allowed in a day- $800- from the One Door account, then depositing a like sum in to one of Brown’s bank accounts or giving the cash to Brown directly.  “When we dug even further, we saw this was a way of life,” he says. Duva says Brown was driven by finances- with three properties and a shopping habit. “She simply spent way more than she took in, she became accustomed to this money coming in,” He says.  Brown would also throw “lavish” events using One Door funds, according to Duva, about $330,000 overall. The US Attorney’s Office says donations to the group funded a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass, a luxury box at a Jaguars game in DC, a luxury box in a Beyonce concert, and more. The money would also allegedly be used for an event at an annual conference, which Duva called a party for Brown to “be celebrated”. No fundraising was done at these events, according to Duva. In his opening statement, though, Brown’s attorney James Smith III said Brown was not responsible for event planning, travel, or even much of the day-to-day operations in her office- Simmons was, and the jury needs to decide if they can trust him. “She trusted that he would always look out for her and care for her,” Smith says. Smith says Brown first offered to be Simmons’ mentor after he and her daughter broke up, but remained friends. Simmons first worked in Brown’s travel agency, then eventually her campaign for the Florida House, then Congress. Smith says Brown looked at Simmons as a son, and was unaware that many thought he was in over his head. Rather, she trusted him to run her staff, keep her schedule, plan her travel and more. Simmons also had access to Brown’s bank accounts, according to Smith. “As far as she knew, everything was running smoothly,” Smith says. 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Juror 19- black female from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Science, married with one son. She served in the Navy for 21 years and her husband is retired Navy as well. She now works in the respiratory science field. Juror 23- white female from Jacksonville, Bachelor’s degree in Business, married with three children. Her children as a 26-year-old waiter, a 23-year-old who works in a grocery store, and an 18-year-old graduating high school. She works in sales support for an insurance company and her husband grades essays for standardized tests. She served on a jury in a state criminal case in Indiana, and they were able to reach a verdict. Juror 26- white male from Middleburg, high school education with some college, married with three daughters- a paralegal, a waitress, and one who does financial work in the medical field. He is unemployed, but previously worked for a mortgage investor company. He has prior military experience of 13.5 years at Cecil Field. 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