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Crookston Visitors Bureau gets influx of funds to launch new website, visitors guide, etc.

The money was in the budget as of June 12, when the Crookston Chamber terminated its agreement with the previous CVB; effort to reconcile Chamber/previous CVB books nixed due to lack of documentation

Mike Christopherson

   The new Crookston Visitors Bureau has been allocated approximately $22,700 to continue moving forward on various initiatives such as the launch of its own website and production of a new digital and printed visitors’ guide. The City of Crookston has moved the money to the CVB, which was in the previous Crookston Convention & Visitors Bureau account held by its previous fiscal host, the Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce. The funds have sort of been in limbo since June 12, 2020, when the Chamber terminated its agreement with the previous CVB.

    As part of the decision to move the money to the new CVB, the decision has also been made, by CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth and City Administrator, to nix an effort to reconcile financial records with the Chamber and former CVB from the time they were affiliated, leading up to those ties being severed. Hoiseth, who said he’s only been involved because Finch asked him to step in because he’d been an ex-officio member of both the Chamber and former CVB boards of directors for the past decade, said it became clear that there was insufficient financial documentation to produce any productive or useful results.

    A firm had previously been secured, for a $5,000 fee paid by the City, to lead the effort to go through the Chamber and former CVB’s books. In making the decision to cancel that undertaking, Hoiseth told the CVB Board Thursday, $5,000 was being saved, and the CVB was getting the $22,700 to start investing in positive initiatives for Crookston than it would have had the reconciliation been allowed to drag on for months, and possibly end up costing more than $5,000 if the firm that had been hired had a hard time getting the information it needed.

    “Talking to (the firm), they wanted documents to even initiate (the reconciliation) and that list (of documents) was not attainable,” Hoiseth explained. “You could call it bad bookkeeping on someone’s part, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the documents. So why spend taxpayer money on something you can’t do?”

    The City of Crookston is now the new fiscal agent for the new CVB, which has achieved official non-profit certification. In that role, the City serves as the pass-through for lodging tax dollars generated by local hotels and motels. The City keeps 5% for staff time and other administrative costs, and gives the rest to the CVB to invest in marketing events in the community aimed at increasing the number of overnight stays at local lodging facilities.

    “The City does not have jurisdiction over this money, so we felt there was a clean break and an opportunity to get the CVB fully funded,” Hoiseth continued. “The money was going to be tied up and held until the end of any reconciliation, so why hold you guys back?”

    CVB Board member and Crookston Inn & Convention Center owner/manager Laurie Stahlecker, who led the effort to form the new CVB, said that, while she and board members were pleased to receive the $22,700, it would have been a “professional courtesy” to have been kept in the loop before the decision was made to not proceed with the budget reconciliation between the Chamber and former CVB.

    The new CVB has now also been allocated lodging tax revenue generated since the Chamber/former CVB split on June 12, totaling $23,766. CVB treasurer Jess Bengtson, with a nod of approval from CVB Board member Dean Adams, requested that a “transaction list” be provided to the CVB dating back to June 12. Hoiseth said it’s his understanding that no dollars have been expended since June 12, but when it was mentioned by CVB board member and AmericInn general manager Cory Dallager that a check had been written to the Chamber after June 12, Hoiseth said that should be easy to follow up on by examining the account at American Federal Bank.

    Stahlecker said the new CVB wants to be as transparent as possible and professional, and wants to avoid any perception that anything is being “swept under the rug.”

    “Nothing is being swept under the rug,” Hoiseth responded. “…All we did was give you all of the money ($22,700), and none is owed to the Chamber. …The decision was pretty simple.”

    Hoiseth said Finch wanted to get the matter cleared up and behind everyone so all stakeholders involved could move past it in a positive fashion.

    “Amy was wary of the situation and took a tremendous amount of time on an issue that doesn’t even involve the City,” Hoiseth said. “She wanted to wrap it up and move together positively.”    Asked for his thoughts on the matter as a Crookston City Council liaison to the CVB Board, Ward 2’s Steve Erickson agreed with the decision to nix the budget reconciliation in favor of getting the $22,700 to the new CVB sooner rather than later.

    “You would have been without the funds for an endless amount of time,” he said. “The City has no reason to cover up anything.”

Other news

    • The new CVB has also received a “crisis grant” from Explore Minnesota designed to help various tourism-related organizations better endure the pandemic. Bengtson said the CVB applied as a “new entity” and added that the money will predominantly be invested in launching the new website, which will go live soon.

    • The printed Crookston visitors’ guide could go to the printers as soon as Jan. 31. It’s possible a new/updated print version will be produced annually, with the digital version constantly updated as needed.

    • A survey of local hotel and motel owners/managers shows a varied impact on business from workers involved in the Line 3 replacement project across northern Minnesota, a route that touches a portion of northeast Polk County. While not many pipeline workers as of yet are staying at the Cobblestone Inn or AmericInn, it’s possible activity will pick up. Meanwhile, there is no vacancy at the Golf Terrace Motel, and Stahlecker reports that the block of rooms she set aside for Line 3 workers is all reserved. She has other rooms available, she said, but they are reserved by other companies. Stahlecker added that there are several wives of pipeline workers also staying in Crookston, and she’s trying to “put something together” for them, such as a bus tour of the community.

    On a related note, Drafts Sports Bar & Grill owner Brent Melsa said “decent-sized” groups of pipeline workers are coming in basically every evening, and that they’re staying at an apartment together on Barrette Street.