Claude Legris has retired as the executive director of the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission, effective July 10. Legris presented his resignation letter to the A&P Commission at its meeting Tuesday (June 23).
He said after nearly 20 years, he and his family feel it is time to depart from his post. Legris has spent 40 years in the promotion and hospitality industry, starting at the Fort Smith A&P in 2001.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have served in this important industry in Fort Smith for many years and depart with great pride in what has been accomplished by industry friends and colleagues but most importantly by the dedicated professionals on the staffs of both the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Fort Smith Convention Center,” he said in his letter.
The A&P administers and oversees funds received from the 3% percent Fort Smith lodging tax and promotes tourism to the city.
While under Legris’ tenure, the A&P was tasked by the Fort Smith Board of Directors to manage the Fort Smith Convention Center. Since doing so, the convention center has had seven years of record revenues, Legris said, listing it as one of his bigger accomplishments. The convention center brought in $912,661 in total revenue in 2019, a 9.49% increase from the $833,546 generated in 2018, according to the annual report.
Legris also served on the steering committee for and was a charter board member of the U.S. Marshals Museum. Being instrumental in the Bring It Home campaign to have the museum located in Fort Smith is one of his proudest accomplishments, Legris said.
While executive director, Legris instituted the Giving Recognition in Tourism (GRIT) Awards in Fort Smith as a way to recognize those involved in the city’s tourism and hospitality industries. He also helped create and served as president of the Arkansas Association of Convention Bureaus.
“It really helped us to join forces,” Legris said. “We all know that what is good for Northwest Arkansas or Little Rock is good for Fort Smith. … Some of the biggest supporters of the Marshals Museum in Fort Smith are the folks in Oklahoma City and with Oklahoma Tourism. They know people want more than one attraction when they are planning to visit an area.”
Among his volunteer work, Legris also produced the Mayor’s 4th of July event for 15 years and was a founding board member and current vice-chairman of the Christmas Honors program. Legris said he had intended to spend one more year in his post before retirement but that now is the time to start the next stage of his life and devote more time to his wife and family.
“I planned to stay one more year, but with the way things are, what’s the point? What can I accomplish in the next 12 months?” he said.
Though 2019 was a record year for tourism in Fort Smith and the first two months of 2020 looked to be on track to be record-breaking as well, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit both the tourism and hospitality industries hard, Legris said.
“We’re going to see things looking rough at least through this year and maybe the next year and half,” Legris said. “But it’s going to bounce back. It is important for people to A) be in groups and B) to travel. Things will improve,” he said.
No decision has been announced about what steps the A&P Commission will take to replace Legris, though he said he would be happy to offer his input if asked. He also said he had been approached about possibly helping in a temporary, part-time or project-based capacity with the commission, especially during budget planning, and he said he is willing to do so.
“[Fort Smith] is too good a product to walk away from. It’s not Hot Springs or Fayetteville or Little Rock. But they aren’t Fort Smith either. We are all important cogs in the wheel called Arkansas tourism,” Legris said.