The thing Alvin Sharpe is most proud of during his 40-year tenure as Williamsburg Tourism Director are all the projects that tourism has been able to accomplish, such as the creation of Briar Creek Park, construction of the Williamsburg Tourism and Convention Center and the Kentucky Splash Waterpark.
“It has been a good ride. I have never dreaded coming to work. It has been a life saver for me, especially after my wife passed away. During her illness, this was an escape being able to come over here and work and get that off my mind,” Sharpe said.
“Unless people have gone through losing a spouse or a child, they have no idea what you go through. It has been a lifesaver. I appreciate everybody that I have ever been associated with in tourism across the state.”
Sharpe is now heading off into retirement, and spent his last day as tourism director Friday.
“I think one of the best things we have had is not only a good tourism commission, but the cooperation with the mayor and city council and people here. That is so important,” Sharpe said. “When you start looking at us in Williamsburg that relationship has been unbelievable. A lot of cities don’t have that relationship with the mayor or county judge and tourism commissions. We are very fortunate here.”
Throughout his life and career, Sharpe has worn many hats.
Prior to coming back to Williamsburg, he was a teacher and track and field coach for six years at Lakeside High School in Georgia, where his team won the state title.
Sharpe initially got involved with the city in regards to the Briar Creek Park project.
At the time, he was teaching a class at Cumberland College, which is now the University of the Cumberlands, called facilities development and management. The class under Sharpe’s leadership helped design Briar Creek Park.
After 42 years of teaching, he retired from the University of the Cumberlands about six years ago.
When Sharpe first started as tourism director, things were very different in Williamsburg.
The Williamsburg Tourism and Convention Center didn’t even exist yet. The office was located in the old caboose.
During his tenure as tourism director, Sharpe has made many presentations across the state concerning the restaurant tax, which was very controversial when it was first proposed and remains that way today in some places.
“It was a lifesaver for us,” Sharpe said about that the restaurant tax and transient room tax (motel tax).
When the 2 percent restaurant tax first passed, it generated about $400,000 in additional revenue for the tourism commission, which at the time only had a $42,000 annual budget.
Today, the transient room tax and restaurant tax combine to generate about $800,000 annually for the Williamsburg Tourism Commission.
Over the last 20 years, much of the restaurant tax revenue has been earmarked towards paying off the debt incurred by building the waterpark.
“I guess those are major accomplishments for this community,” Sharpe said about implementation of the restaurant and transient room taxes. “The quality of life has greatly been increased. The waterpark will be paid off in February, which is a major accomplishment,” Sharpe said.
He is hoping this revenue will be earmarked for another project or two after February.
Sharpe is a member of several hall of fames, including: The Lakeside High School Hall of Fame in Georgia, the Williamsburg Independent School Hall of Fame, the University of the Cumberlands Hall of Fame, and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. He has also won several coach of the year awards at the high school and collegiate level.
“I’ve had all kinds of awards and all that, but it is the pleasure seeing what we have done here in tourism more so than anything. Being Coach of the Year in Georgia and all that stuff means a lot to you, but at the same time this right here has been something else. It has been a total enjoyment,” Sharpe said about his career as tourism director.
Sharpe is also proud of the many events that tourism has helped make successful all these years.
Teresa Estes started Old Fashioned Trading Days and was in charge of that for many years before retiring. Then Sharpe and former long-time assistant and right-hand Joyce Bird took over the planning and organization of the event, which has remained successful. Now Nikki Kysar has assumed those duties.
“Then you have the Fourth of July and you have the Gateway to the Cumberlands Jeep Jamboree, which has been the world’s largest for five years in a row. They love it here with the hospitality and the way they are treated,” Sharpe noted.
Sharpe added that he has also enjoyed working with Corbin Economic Development Director Bruce Carpenter on the Corbin Industrial Park project, which he noted was started by former Economic Development Director Virginia Combs.
Carpenter said that he got to know Sharpe many years ago before going to work for the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce when he was advocating for regionalization.
“Alvin was instrumental in promoting the concept of regionalization for our two communities, recognizing and understanding the benefits. As economic development director, it’s been my privilege to work with Alvin for 16 years now as he sits as Chairman of the Southeast Kentucky Industrial Development Authority,” Carpenter said.
“Alvin’s leadership has been significant in achieving the successes we’ve seen in the Southeast Kentucky Regional Industrial Park over the past few years. I am grateful that Alvin has agreed to continue his tenure as Chairman of the Board following his retirement.”
Sharpe said the thing he is going to miss most are projects, working with the tourism commission and the mayor, and helping out the city with various other things.
“It has been a love. How do you express something you feel so strongly about? It has been a good ride. It has been a blessing too,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe admits that he has had some apprehension about retiring from tourism, but said it is time.
Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison said that he can’t imagine Williamsburg Tourism without Sharpe being involved.
“As the director, he has been a constant help of mine. We have a good relationship. I have known him forever. He was my teacher in college. We go so far back. To say he is going to be missed is an understatement. I think we will all realize that soon,” Harrison said. “I hate to see him go, but I understand. There comes a time.”
Harrison said that the Williamsburg Tourism Commission will operate without a director for a while.
One of Sharpe’s biggest plans for retirement is traveling with Virginia Combs after all the pandemic concerns die down and civil unrest in many major cities is over.
“I’ve had a life full of blessings. Ups and downs, but mainly blessings,” Sharpe added.