Leland Wykoff, candidate for Pigeon Forge City Commissioner, is eager to bring his wealth of experience, knowledge, and educational excellence in Hospitality Administration to Citizens service.
Leland says he looks forward to bringing balance to City Commission by representing Citizen Voices. Recent city direction, and actions, makes it clear Developers are fully represented at city hall.
He is an alumnus of The Florida State University, College of Business, with a Bachelors in Hotel and Restaurant Administration, one of the top ranked Hospitality programs in the nation.
Leland has traveled extensively and developed a deep knowledge of emerging products and trends in tourism, having visited over 33 countries and virtually all the United States. Leland returned from Argentina where he had meetings with officials from the Ministry of Tourism.
As an activist investor, he worked to insure appropriate capital allocation and shareholder returns at several companies including BellSouth/AT&T, Cracker Barrel, Saks, Fastenal, Six Flags, and cruise line operators.
Recent actions include assisting in the defeat of the proposed merger of amusement park operator Cedar Fair (FUN) and Apollo Management at the proposed price of $11.50 per share. Cedar Fair activist shareholders worked to install a new management team and board of directors and restore the dividend. Shares currently trade in the $55 to $58 range and pay a dividend in excess of 5 percent.
Leland helped increased the proposed share price from $5.00 to $7.85 in Apollo Global Management’s acquisition of Great Wolf Resorts, an improvement of a record setting 57% gain.
Often these activities have included meeting with CEOs and various Vice Presidents and other top management and/or members of the board of directors. Leland knows his way around the boardroom.
This financial experience will be critical to assisting Pigeon Forge as it faces the massive bond payments and debt related to projects such as the LeConte Convention Center, Island parking, and Ripken Experience.
Leland is from Johnson City. His grandfather J.D. Thomas was a Sevier County native. The Thomas Recital Hall at Carson Newman University was a legacy gift of his grandmother, Mildred Thomas. Leland has resided in Pigeon Forge for over 25 years, having first worked in Sevier County as a junior high student.
“In February, I traveled to Argentina and spent several weeks touring the country. I also met with Ministry of Tourism officials who shared cutting edge information about tourism promotion related to Argentina. Leveraging of social media promotion was found to be quite impressive,” Leland said.
For three years, he operated the Whitewater Café at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, Copperhill, Tennessee, providing daily seasonal restaurant service, retail, camping supplies, souvenirs, and catering services.
He was a manager of high volume retail stores in Gatlinburg for over 25 years.
“Last year I agreed to work for several days as an usher to assist in crowd management and hospitality at the Pigeon Forge Convention Center during the understaffed Gospel Singing Convention,” he said. “It was an eye-opening experience and provided invaluable insights into the operation and opportunities of the Pigeon Forge Convention Center.”
As a fundraising volunteer for 2014 Give Kids the World, Gatlinburg, he assisted in improving event revenues to approximately $13,000 from approximately $4,000 the previous year. Responsibilities included securing auction donations, innovating and energizing auction with new revenue and action components, training volunteers, recruiting volunteers, co-emcee of event, and ticket sales.
Leland is a member Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, volunteers on Ron’s Ride (a Wounded Warrior Project event), volunteered and assisted with fundraising benefitting a Sevierville police officer incapacitated due to severe illness, board member Skates & Skirts ladies outreach for the Knoxville Ice Bears (raising money for breast cancer research and services), and assisted Skates and Skirts in fundraising for youth and amateur hockey.
Graduate of the Knoxville FBI Citizens Academy, and member of the Citizens Academy Alumni Association, he assisted in planning the 2014 Alumni Association field trip to Washington DC by arranging a behind-the-scenes tour at the Library of Congress and dinner at The National Press Club, followed by a tour of member only areas. He is also a Graduate of the Sevierville Citizens Police Academy.
“I was honored to serve on the Pigeon Forge long-range planning process at the invitation of Mayor Ralph Chance several years ago,” said Leland. The process involved many citizens and public officials with attending public meetings. The meetings resulted in many community inputs for improvement and civic development. The staff driven report initially omitted recommendations for a Community Center and Library due to budget concerns. “I worked to organize citizens and successfully restore the recommendation for the Community Center and Library. It was my pleasure to be the only participant with a perfect attendance record over the near year long process.”
Following construction of the Pigeon Forge Public Library, he served on the initial organizing committee to form the Friends of the Pigeon Forge Library, bringing the experience from serving on the Friends of the Johnson City Public Library Board of Directors.
“Over the past 38 years, it has been my honor to teach fundraising skills to hundreds of people and organizations and to use those skills to fundraise on behalf of many organizations and causes. I have served on the board of directors of a variety of agencies, including health agencies, advocacy groups, theatre groups, Friends, faith organizations, and community foundations. I have served in many roles including board chair, vice chair, secretary, fundraising chair, grant making chair, and director of audience development.”
Leland believes Pigeon Forge has seemingly lost touch with the voice of the citizens of the city. The voice of the citizens seems to be lost in a conversation dominated by the interests of developers. A well-run and equitably represented city has a balance of voices. When that balance is lacking, the citizen’s quality of life of begins to suffer.
“I want to represent the citizens of Pigeon Forge. Developers are already fully represented at city hall,” said Leland. “We are blessed to live in an area with natural beauty. That beauty should be enhanced by smart development focusing on quality careers, professional development, and high standards for the environment, and business and partnership opportunities that benefit citizens. We must expand and diversify our economy and reduce the reliance upon one industry as we move forward.
“Kenny Maples inspired me to run for Pigeon Forge City Commission when he issued a plea via the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association for qualified candidates with a hospitality background to run for local elected offices.
“We must begin the process of improving the income and benefits earned by our citizens in the private sector. We can accomplish this by having tough accountability in the allocation and use of our public investments. Further, we can achieve improvement by professionalizing and rewarding higher educational standards for our public and private employees.”
He says accountability is paramount. Public investments must be measured by the yardsticks of quality of life improvements, increased incomes, better and more plentiful housing for our citizens and workforce, and the development of our tourism product and other industry. Measurable, desirable outcomes must be planned, analyzed, and held up to tough standards.
Diversification of income streams and products must be encouraged and developed. Zoning and planning laws must be adhered to on a consistent and fair basis.
“My wealth of experience has prepared me to expand my public service by joining the team leading Pigeon Forge,” Leland said. “My knowledge base, across multiple disciplines, will allow me to serve the citizens well.”
He says we must not make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion each additional dollar of advertising will continue a $57 to $1 return. The critical measure is the appropriate use of our resources. In the social media environment opportunities are constantly evolving and costs of impressions are declining. We must diversify and improve our messaging.
Wise investment of our public resources requires us to send the right impressions, to the right people, at the right times, at the right cost. Benchmarking marketing costs and results to businesses such as amusement parks, cruise lines, hotel chains, and resort properties could lead to more efficient and effective promotional spending.
The hospitality industry views and books promotional costs as expenses, not as investments. Necessary expenses to be sure; however, expenses to be controlled none-the-less. Private enterprise is recognized as being much more efficient at allocating resources than government. Pigeon Forge should import best practices from private industry to improve performance of each spending line in our budget.
Projects such as the Wastewater Treatment plant must be completed in a timely manner. Other projects may need to be delayed or accelerated.
Services to citizens such as the Community Center, Library, high-speed internet services, utility cost alignment, and traffic flow improvements must be priorities.
When utilizing public funds to effect economic development, it is incumbent upon the City to be certain quality careers are being created. Public support should hinge upon career markers, including specific wage levels, benefit packages, health insurance, and advancement opportunities. Poor jobs (as opposed to careers) are not worthy of public support nor investment.
Cost shifting as a result of past practices must be addressed to assure residents are not soaked with inappropriate fees.
Appropriate public projects deserve and require the support of citizens and Commissioners.
Developers have drowned out Citizens voices long enough. A Commission attuned to quality of life and career development is crucial at this time. Leland will represent the voice of the Citizens.
Leland asks for your supportive vote May 12th. Like Leland Pigeon Forge on Facebook.