New CVB clears hurdle to work with CHEDA, barely

Mike Christopherson

The morning after the Crookston City Council and Mayor Dale Stainbrook voted Monday evening 5-4 in favor of allowing the new Crookston Visitors Bureau to slide under the CHEDA umbrella in order to access lodging tax dollars and jumpstart event marketing efforts, the CVB’s unofficial board of directors – mostly owners/managers of local lodging facilities – met and endorsed the move.

Next up, it’s likely that the CHEDA Board of Directors will take up the matter when they next meet and either approve it or vote it down. Then it’ll have to go back to the council for another vote.

A couple months ago, after the Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce and then-Crookston Convention & Visitors’ Bureau severed their ties at the Crookston CVB’s request so that a revamped CVB could be formed, Laurie Stahlecker, leader of the new CVB and manager/owner of the Crookston Inn & Convention Center, approached the CHEDA Board about possibly serving as the new CVB’s fiscal administrator so the revamped entity could access lodging tax dollars while it works through the process of becoming an officially certified 501(c)6 non-profit. While the CHEDA Board seemed more open to the idea than not at that time, the board took no action on Stahlecker’s request because the city council would first have to endorse the plan.

At a special Ways & Means Committee meeting on Monday, scheduled in order to go through several department budgets as part of 2021 planning and also to conduct a closed session to come up with a salary offer to new city administrator Amy Finch, the council and mayor approved the idea, barely. Council members Bobby Baird, Jake Fee, Steve Erickson, Joe Kresl and Tom Vedbraaten voted in favor of the CVB’s request, while council members Clayton Briggs, Don Cavalier and Dylane Klatt voted against. The mayor votes on matters at Ways & Means Committee meetings but only in the event of breaking a tie at council meetings, so Stainbrook voted against as well.

Stainbrook said after talking to CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, he wasn’t convinced serving as the CVB’s fiscal administrator was in CHEDA’s “wheelhouse” or that Hoiseth even wanted to do it. To that, Stahlecker said she was under the impression after speaking to Hoiseth last week that he was in favor of the scenario. Hoiseth, in attendance Monday, clarified by saying that if the council wanted the CVB and CHEDA to have the relationship being requested, “CHEDA would be open to” considering such a scenario.

As for council members who voted against, Cavalier said he thinks the problems with the CVB dating back to its deteriorated relationship with the Chamber run too deep to swiftly make major decisions about how the new CVB forges ahead. 

“This is not the time to move forward,” Cavalier said. “We have questions about the leadership of (both the new CVB and Chamber).”

As for Klatt, who made a motion last week to end the lodging tax and disband the CVB, a motion that died due to no council member offering a second, he said Monday that it’s “obvious” that the new CVB wants to get away from the City and “get to CHEDA,” something that he said people in his ward and people elsewhere in Crookston have concerns about. Klatt said the City needs to have a direct role in the CVB and the lodging tax. “I think CHEDA has a job to do and a purpose, and the council does, too,” he continued. “We’re neglecting our responsibilities to just push this off to CHEDA.”

Briggs agreed.

“It seems like every time there’s an issue on something or another, (the CVB) wants to move to CHEDA,” he said. “I feel it should be handled through the City. Issues aren’t being resolved; there’s no discussion with each other. I just don’t agree with it.”

Kresl said he didn’t see it that way. With the new CVB still several months and maybe up to a year away from achieving official non-profit status, he said the request to affiliate with CHEDA now is simply so the new CVB can access lodging tax revenue and embark on efforts to market events that bring people to Crookston. Currently, Stahlecker said, the new CVB’s efforts are being funded solely by local lodging facilities, and they won’t be reimbursed.

And, proponents of the move reiterated, the City will still have an active role in the new CVB. Two council members will sit on the board once it’s officially formed, and two council members already sit on the CHEDA Board, they said. In addition, the council will vote on every potential appointee to the new CVB board that’s brought forth for consideration.

Given that the CHEDA Board still has to act on the matter and that, after that, it will go back to the council for another vote, the new CVB being able to access lodging tax revenue through a new affiliation with CHEDA – if it even happens – is still several weeks away. Meantime, Stahlecker said, several grant requests for CVB dollars sit in limbo.

That concern spurred talk of a faster path, which would have the City simply form a committee that, working with the CVB, would approve various investments of lodging tax dollars until the CVB secures its non-profit status. Most who ended up voting against the motion voted on Monday indicated they preferred a City-led route. Stahlecker said that was among three options for the new CVB that she previously presented to the City, but that she received no response on any of the options she proposed. With a City-led committee as a possibly palatable path forward, Stahlecker said she’d take it to the new CVB group, which met Tuesday morning. But at that meeting, they stuck to their vision of affiliating with CHEDA until they secure their non-profit status.

Friction easing?

During Monday’s discussion, Fee asked Stahlecker if the CVB’s request to work with CHEDA was solely about accelerating event marketing efforts, or due to friction dating back to the former CVB’s time with the Chamber.

“I don’t think the friction is between the CVB and City, and I don’t think it will continue between the CVB and Chamber,” Stahlecker replied, adding that Chamber Board Chair Lance Norman had reached out to her since the discussion at last week’s council meeting and that the two entities were looking to hold a joint meeting of their executive boards. “I don’t think this is friction, it’s just wanting to move forward,” she added.