They want more say on the CVB Board, and want the agency removed from under the Chamber of Commerce umbrella.
Speaking on their behalf but joined by representatives of the local lodging community in the Crookston City Hall council chambers Monday evening, Cory Dallager, general manager of the AmericInn Hotel & Suites in Crookston, recommended that the Crookston Convention & Visitors Board be modified in a way that would give the local lodging community more clout. Mostly, Dallager stressed, the CVB needs to be removed from under the Crookston Chamber of Commerce umbrella.
“It’s not working under the Chamber umbrella, all the back and forth. I’m not quite sure what the deal is, but it needs to change. This needs to stop immediately," Dallager told the council during the public forum portion of the agenda that opens each meeting.
Dallager was joined at the meeting by Laurie Stahlecker of the Crookston Inn & Convention Center and Lisa Tadd of the Cobblestone Inn. They told the Times that the Shea family, owners of the Golf Terrace Motel, also support the request to change the CVB, but they were not represented at the meeting.
Mayor Dale Stainbrook said that in his view, the chairs of the CVB and Chamber of Commerce boards of directors should be the first to discuss the matter, along with Terri Heggie, executive director of the Crookston Chamber & Visitors Bureau. Later Monday evening, at a subsequent discussion at the council’s Ways & Means Committee meeting, that was essentially the direction the council took. Within the next two weeks, before the council meets again, representatives of the local hotels and motels will meet with the council liaisons to both the CVB and Chamber boards, the chairs of both boards, and Heggie, to see if modifications palatable to all of the stakeholders can be hammered out. After the meeting, the council will again discuss the matter. While there are council members who think the council and the City should stay out of the entire matter as much as possible, the Chamber and City have a contract up for renewal every year in the form of a City ordinance in regard to the local lodging tax, so the council and City need to be involved with whatever shape the contract takes.
“Everyone says this is not a council problem, but we need this kind of insight from the council so we can handle this professionally and maturely,” Tadd told the council. “We don’t want to get into a battle of he said/she said. We want the community, the hotels, the Chamber and CVB to continue to get supported.”
Dallager said he'd spoken with CVB representatives in other towns, including Roseau, where he said he was told that they revamped their CVB structure to give hotel and motel owners a stronger voice in the CVB direction and mission, and since the changes, "It's much better there now," Dallager said.
Like in Roseau, leaders of Crookston's lodging facilities would like the CVB Board to drive what the CVB does. Dallager said the Crookston group would like to run the CVB with 100% participation of the local lodging community and have the hotel and motel representatives be the only voting members on the board.
The Crookston CVB Board held a special meeting in March, at which, Dallager said, nothing was accomplished despite a lot of discussion about the agency's budget and revenue and how it's tied to the Chamber and the lodging tax that's collected by the City. (Local lodging facilities charge guests a 3% lodging tax and it funnels to the City, which gives 95% of lodging tax revenue to the CVB and retains the rest to cover administrative costs.) At that meeting, Dallager recalled, CVB board member Libby Boucher voiced her strong concerns about the CVB budget and revenue, its contract with the Chamber, and how much lodging tax revenue the Chamber takes from the CVB. Dallager, who said he’s attended essentially every CVB Board meeting since he started at the AmericInn around a year ago, said Boucher’s concerns, which he feels were accurate, were not received well by some board members at the meeting. Boucher a little more than a week ago submitted her letter of resignation from the CVB Board, citing the lack of response to her concerns, among which, Boucher says, is a breach of contract.
City Attorney Charles “Corky” Reynolds said the contract between the Chamber and City expires every year on July 31. If no written notice is submitted within a 90-day window to terminate the contract, he explained, it automatically renews. But either entity, the City or the Chamber, can provide the 90-day notice at any time during the year, he noted. The City’s essential role in the entire relationship, Reynolds said, is that of a “pass-through” for the lodging tax revenue to the CVB.
At Large Council Member Bobby Baird said it’s important that the discussion continue, because the concerns, he said, have been simmering for some time. “There’s been a lot of talk, on money, reports, quorums, advertising,” Baird said. “There were a lot of good things said tonight, and I agree with what was said.”
Even though the City and Chamber have a contract, At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said Chamber and CVB leaders, along with representatives of local lodging facilities, should take the lead on pushing for potential changes sought with improving the CVB in mind. “If the CVB is giving more money to the Chamber, that’s their fault,” Vedbraaten said.
The working relationship between the Chamber and CVB has the Chamber executive director, Heggie, perform various services for the CVB, Reynolds explained, and the expenses for those services and how they will be paid for out of lodging tax revenue are also in writing. The CVB Board as of now has one hotel representative with the power to vote.
“I’m not saying that’s the only way or the best way, and if there are problems with things getting done, that’s another issue,” Reynolds said.
Asked by Ward Six Council Member Dylane Klatt why local hotels and motels are “more important” than other Crookston businesses who need support and marketing and promotional efforts, too, Stahlecker said hotel and motel owners don’t think their businesses are more important. But, as Dallager noted earlier, the primary mission of local lodging facilities is putting “heads on beds,” and when they have more heads on beds, other Crookston businesses and the entire community benefit.
“We’re saying the goals of the CVB aren’t being dealt with,” Stahlecker said. “We’re not saying this is just hotel money. We’re just asking for the same type of promotion businesses under the Chamber are getting. Other CVBs have their own website, their own marketing, the whole nine yards.” She and Dallager mentioned the state Eagles convention scheduled to be held in Crookston in June and that Crookston’s hotels are fully booked as a result. Although the convention is in jeopardy of being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Stahlecker and Dallager said that nothing about the convention is mentioned on the Chamber/CVB website. “It’s been brought up multiple times,” Dallager said.
Stahlecker said a ballroom at the Crookston Inn would be large enough for the stakeholders to meet within the next two weeks while also implementing necessary social distancing measures.