Pounders: Batesville’s Express tops ‘em all
By John Howell
With 11,000 passengers accommodated and 62 more train trips to go, ticket sales for the Batesville train have pulled ahead of the other 12 Polar Express Train Ride events operated by Iowa Pacific Railroad in the U. S. and Great Britain.
Event manager Sheila Pounders said Tuesday that 42,000 tickets have been sold to date, with 60,000 to 65,000 sales projected by the last ride on December 23.
Pounders said she and her Court Street Catering, LLC partner, Don Clayton, began negotiations with Iowa Pacific in September and soon agreed to manage the event during its second year in Batesville.
That meant conducting a job fair where 174 seasonal employees were hired from 800 applicants interviewed over two days.
“You’ve got to staff the train,” Pounders said. “The train has elves, cooks, waiters and chefs and custodial staff.” The 174 seasonal employees include about 50 students.
“It is a very good part-time job; the Iowa Pacific pay scale begins at $10 an hour for these students, Pounders said Tuesday, speaking to the Batesville Rotary Club’s noon meeting. “If they are 15 and 16 years old, they can only work 20 hours in a pay period. If they are older they can work as long as they want to.”
“They’ve all, as a whole, done a wonderful job, and we’ve gotten wonderful reviews from online,” she said.
The Batesville Polar Express Train Ride Event Manager said that the biggest question she hears is, “How much money is the city making?”
She cited the city’s lease with the railroad that allows IP’s use of certain areas around the railroad on the Square for $100.
“Then the next question that comes is,” Pounders said, “‘but the city spends all this money getting ready for these people to come to town and we get $100?’”
The event manager said that the downtown improvement projects were planned and scheduled before Polar Express announced in June, 2015, its plans to locate in Batesville.
“If those 65,000 people come through Batesville and go to merchants row and they spend $20 — you do the math, but I can assure you they are spending way more than $20.”
“The gift shop that Iowa Pacific set up in a building that was empty that Iowa Pacific now leases from the owner which, in turn, puts more revenue back into our money, did $70,000 in six days.
“Of that $70,000, we draw seven percent of that money,” she continued, referring to state sales tax collected of which about 18 percent is returned to the city.
Pounders emphasized that purchases from retail stores and convenience stores also generate the sales tax and that sales of prepared food from restaurants generate an additional three percent from the tourism tax that is fully returned to the city.
The event manager said also that the two phases of the project that during 2015 and 2016 have re-configured parking, improved lighting, landscaping and sidewalks on the Square were already planned prior to the city’s being aware that IP would bring its Polar Express to Batesville.
Visitors have come from all over the southeastern U.S. and from all parts of Mississippi, Pounders continued. The Polar Express Train Ride’s Batesville event has led to publicity features in the Mississippi Business Journal, the Commercial Appeal and the Clarion-Ledger, and the DeSoto, Mid-South and Mississippi magazines.
“We did not pay for one dime of this advertising,” she said.
“Our main interest this whole time was to make this merchant friendly,” she said. “The city has really stepped up and done their part. They have stood beside us.”
“The merchants have done the same thing,” Pounders said. “When you can call the people in your community and they step up and do what they need to do, that’s what makes an event successful.”