Now separate, CVB, Chamber seek City as partner to boost Crookston

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terri Heggie speaks to the council this week. Looking on left to right are Fire Chief Tim Froeber, Chamber Board member Aaron Meyer, and City IT Director Philip Barton.

Although the Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce and Crookston Convention & Visitors’ Bureau have sought to sever their relationship, both entities continue to make what are now separate pitches to the Crookston City Council on how to best market the Crookston community. With the revamped CVB, it’s more about better promoting events or coming up with new events that increase occupancy at local hotels and motels and boost the local economy overall. With the Chamber, it’s more about marketing Crookston better to those elsewhere or those passing through who might considering living in Crookston or opening or relocating a business here.

Changes at CVB

Since the City of Crookston collects lodging tax revenue from local hotels and motels and disseminates it to the CVB so that it can be invested in things like grants to promote events that boost the community, the City has the final say on the mechanism that makes all of that happen.

Monday evening, the Crookston City Council’s Ways and Means Committee was presented with three options for the CVB going forward, formulated in the wake of owners of local lodging facilities asking earlier this spring that they be able to separate from the Chamber and evolve going forward so that hotel and motel owners have more of a say in CVB leadership and how lodging tax revenue is invested. (The Chamber subsequently requested in a letter to the City that that Chamber/CVB contract with the City be terminated in regard to administrative services tied to the lodging tax.)

The options were formulated because a CVB no longer affiliated with a non-profit agency like the Chamber cannot simply forge ahead on its own. According to City Attorney Charles “Corky” Reynolds, it can simply declare itself a non-profit and hope the declaration faces no challenges, or, more likely, it would have to go through the months-long process of securing its own certified non-profit status. But in the meantime, it can partner with an existing non-profit in order to invest lodging tax dollars. Last month, Crookston Inn & Convention Center owner/general manager Laurie Stahlecker presented to the CHEDA Board about CHEDA being that potential non-profit partner, but on Monday, Reynolds said that CHEDA is an economic development and housing agency formed by resolution and is not a non-profit, nor is it a government entity.

The first option was for the City to repeal its lodging tax ordinance entirely. The second option called for the City to disperse the lodging tax dollars and market accordingly, with Parks & Recreation Administrative Assistant Andrea Prudhomme playing a role. She would work with a revamped CVB Board with increased hotel and motel representation. The third option would have had the revamped CVB Board partner with an existing non-profit.

In the end, the council chose a hybrid form of the second and third option, with the general understanding that it would be the revamped CVB’s goal to eventually secure its own non-profit certification. 

Under the new format, Stahlecker said, the CVB Board would have four hotel/motel representatives – basically all four lodging facilities in Crookston. Two would be voting members and two would serve in ex-officio capacity, i.e. they can take part in discussions, etc. but they do not vote. Other board members would essentially have “job descriptions,” Stahlecker continued, would know that they are expected to attend meetings, and they would represent a wide array of interests, including local business owners and retail interests.

According to the proposal regarding the new CVB, some lodging tax revenue would be earmarked toward a modest stipend that would be paid to someone to help lead event marketing efforts.

In green-lighting the CVB’s efforts to take a modified path forward, some council members stressed that they want to have a better handle on the CVB’s budget, the revenue coming in, and how it’s being invested. Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee, for example, said “accountability” is going to be a big deal going forward. Interim City Administrator Angel Weasner said an internal audit on the CVB and lodging tax budget is already in the works.

“With the internal audit, we’ll know all expenses, all money turned over, everything,” she said.

Chamber proposal

Chamber Executive Director Terri Heggie later in Monday’s meeting offered the Chamber’s services to better market the Crookston community to the outside world. In detailing the plan, entitled “Crookston! Let’s Grow Together!” Heggie stressed that Crookston lacks an identified plan to market itself, and that “some entity” needs to get the ball rolling. She proposed that the Chamber be that entity.

“There are many great ideas and many entities trying to do the same things, but are we going in the right direction?” Heggie said. “To community members, businesses and outside onlookers, it looks a little disjointed. We are in dire need of a marketing plan.”

At the center of the Chamber’s efforts would be the goal of making Crookston attractive as a place to live, work, play, stay, grow a business, or retire, she said.

She mentioned the “BE-long in Crookston” slogan and branding efforts put forth by the Chamber in partnership with the City from a few years ago and described it as a “great message,” but, Heggie added, various slogans and branding efforts “lose their luster” over time.

The proposal comes with a price tag. Heggie said she and Chamber Marketing & Tourism Coordinator Antuan Brown have formulated a budget for 2021 and presented it to Weasner. The budget’s bottom line was not specified during the discussion. A specific “budget ask” from the Chamber will be made when the City gets further into the process of putting its 2021 budget together, Weasner said Monday. The Times reached out to Weasner on Tuesday seeking the dollar amount and had not heard back from her as of the writing of this story. Heggie, reached by the Times, reiterated Tuesday that a specific budget request will be made of the council at a later date.

At Large Council Member Bobby Baird said he’d like more information and would like to get more questions answered. Weasner said there will be an opportunity later for council members to ask questions and further discuss the Chamber’s proposal. “There will be a detailed breakdown of the numbers for the council to consider,” she said.