A group of hotel owners in Crookston has formed a new visitors bureau, but some of its promotional activities have caused friction with the local chamber of commerce.
Crookston Visitors Bureau was formed after the Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce moved to terminate its agreement with the city to operate the previous bureau, earlier this year. Hotel owners there, concerned about losing opportunities the city’s 3% lodging tax brings in, are in the process of establishing a nonprofit group to take over those funds. The group is now working on a volunteer basis to promote tourism to Crookston.
At issue is the voluntary nature of the CVB. According to an Aug. 10 report in the Crookston Times, Chamber leadership, at a Monday City Council meeting there, said the newly formed group is duplicating the Chamber’s work. Chamber members pay an annual fee to belong, which raises concerns they may not be getting what they paid for, if the CVB is promoting the town for free.
“We do run parallel to each other on some of the marketing,” said Laurie Stahlecker, who owns the Crookston Inn and Convention Center and is on the board of the CVB.
That promotional work so far consists of creating a social media page and sharing videos to attract people to the town. An Aug. 11 post on that page states there will be “overlap in marketing messages” for the town, but those messages are necessary for the survival of Crookston’s small businesses.
The CVB has sent articles of incorporation to the state to create a 501(c)6 organization, a process that could take six months to a year. Once that has been accomplished, the group will hammer out a deal with Crookston’s City Council to receive funding from the city’s 3% lodging tax, at which time it would stop working on a voluntary basis. Then, two City Council members could be appointed to the CVB’s board.
“Everything we’re doing right now, we’re doing for free,” Stahlecker said.
Stahlecker told the Herald she received an email from city staff on Friday, not noticing it until Saturday, asking her to attend Monday’s Council meeting to discuss CVB activities. She replied to the email, but didn’t hear back until Monday, which, she says, left her little time to get ready.
“I really didn’t have time to prepare; I was blindsided,” she told the Herald.
According to Angel Weasner, interim city administrator, Stahlecker was not required to be at the meeting and chose to show up voluntarily. Her presence at the meeting, however, may have served to reduce tensions between the Chamber and CVB.
“Hopefully, it’s been mended, and the Chamber and CVB will be able to meet and come to an agreement and work together,” Weasner said.
It’s unclear why the Chamber opted to dissolve its previous incarnation of the visitors bureau. Terrie Heggie, the Chamber’s executive director, referred the Herald to Board Chair Lance Norman for comment. Norman was not able to be reached for this report.
Cory Dallager, general manager at Crookston’s AmericInn, is a board member of the new CVB. He told the Herald he sat on the previous board, which he described as “unfunctional.” Members, he said, would frequently not show up to meetings, City Council members included, which often left the group without a quorum. Hotel owners wished to start a new board that members cared about.
Dallager said the activities of the CVB are not duplicative of the Chamber’s, as the two entities focus on different areas, with the Chamber promoting businesses locally.
“We're after the people that don't live in our community,” Dallager said.