2024 “Return to Shawshank” Annual Meeting

More than 150 members of the Richland County tourism industry gathered at Mid-Ohio Conference Center on May 8th for the Destination Mansfield-Richland County “Return to Shawshank” Annual Meeting. The gathering provided networking and education opportunities for attendees as they were updated on the destination marketing organization’s accomplishments over the past year.

“We’ve made great strides in the last year in moving our region forward,” Destination Mansfield President Lee Tasseff told the crowd. “Our goal was to build on the many new assets developed last year. We achieved that –and added new video and image assets. We employed new data intelligence to drive our campaigns and brought our new brand to life in fresh and innovative ways.”

Tasseff pointed to the digital marketing campaign that drove awareness throughout the year.   He shared the power of destinationmansfield.com and the bureau’s other digital and social media marketing projects. Tourism industry members also heard about public relations efforts that resulted in 622 articles about the area, generating 37 billion impressions that told Mansfield & Richland County’s story to travelers across the state, the US and beyond by reaching media outlets across the US, as well as global audiences.

Attendees also heard details of how filming “The Shawshank Redemption” fueled a local movement to save the Reformatory. It spurred the development of the area’s most famous attraction, which has had a positive, far-reaching impact on the local tourism industry.

“The notoriety of the film has led to billions of media impressions and dollars in advertising value for the reformatory and our community worldwide,” said Tasseff, adding that the community will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film’s release this August, with additional media exposure expected as a result of anniversary events.

The meeting capped off with 12 new Tourism Awards of Excellence for 2024. Since the awards launched in 2005, 84 industry members have been recognized for their efforts to develop, improve or transform their attraction or business, thereby positively impacting tourism and the resulting economic development.

“Ours is truly an industry driven by collaboration,” said Tasseff. “By working together and by improving and innovating their own individual businesses and attractions, our industry members elevate the entire community and enhance the overall visitor experience across Richland County. We recognize and celebrate those individual efforts and the important role they play in boosting our local economy.”

This year’s Tourism Award of Excellence recipients include:

City of Shelby and the Shelby Community Improvement Corporation is recognized for its work on the Black Fork Commons Plaza and streetscape. By adding new dining and drinking options, Shelby becomes an outstanding evening destination.

The Historic Ohio State Reformatory’s Shawshank Bus Tours (June-October) let travelers ride on a gorgeous new branded coach in comfort on neatly packaged tours of the filming sites from “The Shawshank Redemption,” along with the prison’s Hollywood Meets History tour. Since the first busload of travelers rolled out in 2022, 1016 guests have taken 100 tours.

Buckeye Imagination Museum’s unique second floor strategically targets older kids and parents, allowing them to enjoy the same energy and excitement that many children’s museums offer only to younger children. In addition, Buckeye Imagination Museum was named “Institution of the Year” by the Ohio Museums Association for its outstanding accomplishments and has been recognized by the Ohio Travel Association.

BrandRichland is a fully integrated community brand that all sectors in all communities within Richland County can embrace and implement to help achieve goals. Uniting our community, and in particular, its economic development efforts, BrandRichland includes a full suite of assets, including logos, video and images. These assets, supported by brand story and standards, are accessible at BrandRichland.com and help our communities, organizations and business tell the world what a great place Richland County is to live, work and play.

Dan Lew Exchange is recognized for success in offering exceptional new culinary offerings in our region and expanding its concepts to benefit both residents and visitors. A wonderful community partner, DLX has developed great events in concert with others in Richland County, such as New Year’s Eve celebration on the Square.

Inkcarceration Festival, the partnership era with Danny Wimmer Presents has taken the festival to new heights. It is recognized for creating the perfect combination of entertainment and venue, coming out of COVID with strength and for generating positive economic impact across locally, in addition to massive awareness for the Reformatory across the U.S.

YMCA of North Central Ohio and its new Splash Pad Park, which won a national YMCA award for its slide, is not just an incredible amenity for our community but the Y has made it accessible to visiting families adding yet another tourism attraction to the region.

Mid-Ohio Sport Car Course re-paved its track and upgraded its facilities, adding new pavilions for hospitality, and saw the return of IMSA and Superbike Races. One of the area’s tourism largest economic impact generators, Mid-Ohio puts Lexington and Mansfield on a national stage through the exposure that hosting international motorsports generates.

Marshall Park has expanded its park and sports facilities including adding turf and lighting for night baseball/softball games. As a result, the park has drawn new tournaments like the MVD Sports Ohio Invitational and the Mid-Ohio Spring Classic (formerly, Wendy’s Spring Classic). The park also hosts regional disc golf tournaments, and soccer tournaments.

Richland Gro-OP Cooperative has garnered media outside Richland County for its unique brilliance. As a supplier to the county’s hospitality industry, it enhances local “Farm to Table” cuisine while providing fresh produce and careers in urban farming in underserved areas. The program builds work skills and educates young people on where our food comes from.

Phoenix Brewing Company is one of the area’s best marketers, with creative and consistent messaging. Participating in statewide brewery events and competitions, Phoenix represents our area outside of Richland County and was featured on the cover and in an article in “On Tap,” a statewide craft brewing magazine.


Chef Jacques, the world’s tallest bobblehead stands 35′, beaconing travelers to Buckeye Express Diner from its high-profile home on SR 97. This colorful 1950s fiberglass statue has received significant national media attention, not to mention visitor smiles and memories, family photo ops and social media posts that promote the region’s light-hearted fun side.

Thank you to the generous sponsors of this event: