Establishing guidelines for promoting the town of South Boston was a topic of discussion that arose during Monday evening’s town council meeting.
Councilman Michael Byrd brought up the discussion, which was not on the meeting agenda, in response to the recent filming of a video promoting South Boston.
Town residents produced the video in a bid to enter South Boston in a contest to win an HGTV “Home Town Takeover” and to be featured on the six-episode special series slated to air on HGTV in 2021.
Town council did not endorse the audition video. After receiving phone calls from residents about the video, Byrd said he questioned whether the video should have been approved by council before being entered in the contest.
Byrd shared that the citizens calling him about the video had voiced concerns that the video did not reflect the diversity of the community.
“I don’t know whether we can establish some ground rules or something that better exemplifies the diverse culture of South Boston, Virginia,” Byrd said. “We have different ethnicities here, and if we put anything out, it needs to represent everybody…We need to touch every culture that makes this town what it is.
“We must understand that whatever we do as a body, we need to do it together and address every culture, because people can take this thing wrong, as if South Boston is practicing racism, and I don’t want to believe that until I see that,” Byrd continued.
“South Boston is on the move to grow, and I think we have something here with this council, with our leadership that’s great, but all it takes is one thing to bring it down, and we have to be cohesive…My question is, ‘How do we bring our town together to say that we’re all on the same boat…and make sure everybody feels as though they’re part of this development for this town.’”
In response to Byrd’s comments, Councilwoman Sharon Harris asked town manager Tom Raab about the parameters for submission of the hometown videos to HGTV, specifically whether only one video per town could be submitted or whether multiple videos could be submitted.
“If there’s only one per town, it does need to represent all of us and all the great things that we’re doing,” Harris said.
Raab responded that he is not 100 % sure of the parameters for the video submissions, but from his understanding, anyone could have produced a video for the contest.
Raab gave a pitch in the “Home Town Takeover” video seeking partnership for the town in the John Randolph hotel renovation project downtown.
“I’ll be much more careful next time,” said Raab. “But I’ll tell you what, if somebody asks me to say something good about South Boston, I am going to say it. I don’t care what venue it is, where it’s at, when it’s at, I’m going to say how great this place is. We need help, and we need help from everybody.”
Raab added that he agrees with Byrd’s comments “100 %,” but he believes the citizens who produced the video were working to create something to promote the town on a deadline in time to enter the HGTV contest.
Vice-Mayor Tina Wyatt-Younger asked who signed off on the video as an official branding tool for the town of South Boston, because it had the town seal on it.
She said she knows the video was produced with the best of intentions, but she had received negative phone calls from citizens, and she had to respond to those calls and explain that council had not endorsed the video.
“Once you put the town seal on something, it’s to say that we were all in agreement and this is how we want to represent our town. People came to me and attacked me, so I had to clear it up and say no, it was not us [town council] who authorized this, “ Wyatt-Younger said. “And it hurt a lot of people’s feelings. The businesses that are downtown, they didn’t know if it was for South Boston itself or downtown, because that’s where it seemed the focus was. We have businesses that have been there for decades and they were not even thought of in the video, so it did rub some people the wrong way.”
Mayor Edward Owens expressed similar thoughts. He said his first concern about the video is that it featured a business that is located 12 miles outside the town limits (Springfield Distillery).
“I don’t believe that is the only business they could’ve found,” Owens said. “The intention was good. I think it just missed the mark for some people.”
Byrd wrapped up the discussion by saying the issue is a matter of branding the town’s name in the future. He proposed coming up with guidelines to “protect our brand name of South Boston that we hold dear.”
Councilman Bob Hughes thanked Byrd for bringing up the topic of branding. He said if he were approached by an organization regarding producing marketing tools for the town, he would have some questions he would ask first.