Door County Tourism Zone and Sturgeon Bay at “A Tipping Point”

An Aug. 27 meeting attended by 45 business owners seeking clarification of the Door County Tourism Zone Commision’s decision regarding the spending of room tax dollars ended up putting the onus on the Sturgeon Bay City Council.

Sturgeon Bay has not joined the zone in large part because it has had its own 4 percent room tax in place since 1998. Seventy percent of the funds from that tax have gone to support the efforts of the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center (SBVC), with 30 percent going to the city. If the city joins the zone, the 70 percent would go to the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) to promote the entire county, including the city of Sturgeon Bay. As a result, the SBVC would have to find another source of funding.

Jeff Davis said it’s time the city stop putting the decision off like a visit to the dentist.

“Somebody’s got to make a painful decision, and that’s the city council,” he said. “This is the tipping point.”

Several attendees of the meeting expressed support for trimming down the SBVC and funding it as other peninsula communities fund their local associations.

Cain Goettelmann pointed out that Fish Creek’s association is run with significant volunteer effort and donations and wondered why Sturgeon Bay couldn’t operate similarly. Christie Weber agreed.

“If Fish Creek and Ephraim can do it when they have a population of about 192, then give me a break,” Weber said. “We have a population of 9,000. We can do it.”

Dan Klein, owner of the Scofield House in Sturgeon Bay, concurred.

“Isn’t it time we join the zone and cut back on our visitor center?” he said.

Sturgeon Bay Mayor Tom Voegele said the opinions expressed at the meeting will change the city’s course of action.

“I think this is definitely pushing the agenda,” he said, noting that he had not heard such a large degree of support for a quick resolution from constituents before.

Visitor Centers in Egg Harbor, Ephraim, and Gibraltar are funded through a combination of membership fees, municipal contributions, fund raising, and volunteer contributions.

When Sturgeon Bay decided to raise its room tax to 5.5 percent Aug. 19, it agreed to cap its take from the tax at $100,000 (about what it currently receives), giving the SBVC approximately $40,000 in additional funding.