Marketing Fund Agreement Reached

After months of debate the Door County Visitor Bureau board of directors decided that giving a little more money to the City of Sturgeon Bay was a small price to pay to keep the Door County Tourism Zone together.

The visitor bureau reached an agreement with representatives of the county’s nine community business associations to extend the Community Marketing Fund (CMF) as a newly defined program called the Strategic Marketing Partnership. The CMF, a three-year agreement designed to bring the City of Sturgeon Bay into the tourism zone in 2009, will expire at the end of this year.

The visitor bureau has budgeted $246,200 of its room tax funds for the Strategic Marketing Partnership. That money will be dispersed to communities according to the percentage of the total room tax receipts that come from each community.

The original Strategic Marketing Partnership plan that CMF Coordinator Bruce Hill presented to the visitor bureau board of directors April 19 established a $235,000 budget. Hill’s plan created a problem for the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center because it would have lost its additional funding from the 2009 agreement, in which the commission allocated extra funds to enable the organization to maintain the programs it had previously funded with its own designated city room tax as it transitioned into the larger tourism zone.

The Tourism Zone Commission, the entity responsible for collecting and dispersing room tax, instructed the visitor bureau to work with the community business associations to come up with a re-worked agreement to cover the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center’s shortfall. The visitor bureau then agreed to give Sturgeon Bay an additional $11,200 beyond its proportional share to cover the gap.

If Sturgeon Bay’s room tax returns increase, the amount of the additional funding will decrease accordingly. However, the additional funding will not be increased if the city’s room tax returns decline.

Jack Moneypenny, the visitor bureau’s executive director, said he’s excited to see a resolution that meets the needs of all communities.

“If $11,200 is what it will take to make everybody happy, then it’s a good investment,” Moneypenny said. “Sturgeon Bay had this money from their own room tax for 10 years before the tourism zone was formed that they were using for marketing programs, and they had to give that up. That’s difficult to do.”

The Strategic Marketing Partnership will also differ from its previous incarnation in its goals and programs. The partnership will continue to send room tax dollars to business associations to fund their efforts to inform and entertain visitors, but Hill said his proposal was “based on the question posed in February when this first came to a head, ‘What do the communities need?’”

Moneypenny said the program places more emphasis on bettering communication between the visitor bureau and the community business associations.

“It’s important that we communicate and form partnerships with our community associations, and we haven’t done that in the past as well as we could have,” Moneypenny said.

Hill worked with a visitor bureau task force and representatives from the community business associations to determine those needs and define their role in the county’s marketing efforts.

“We determined that the role of the visitor bureau is to get guests to the county,” he said. “The job of the community business associations is to entertain and inform guests while they’re here.”

Under Hill’s proposal, the business associations can use the funds to pay for community websites, brochures, the staffing of informers and marketers at local information centers, and the promotion of community events such as Pumpkin Patch or Fall Fest; however, the funds cannot be used to cover the cost of putting on community events.

In effect, the visitor bureau would purchase the entertainment and information services from the business associations.

With the CMF issue apparently settled, it appears likely that the intergovernmental agreement between Door County’s 17 municipalities that holds the Door County Tourism Zone together will hold. Two municipalities, the City of Sturgeon Bay and the Town of Washington Island, have yet to re-up. Sturgeon Bay Administrator Steve McNeil said the city was waiting to see how the CMF issue was resolved. An ad hoc committee will make a recommendation to the city council on the issue in the next few weeks.

“The city was most concerned that the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center would survive,” he said. “And this issue is particularly important given all the cuts we are facing from the state.”

Washington Island Town Chairman Joel Gunnlaugsson said the Washington Island Town Board would discuss the agreement at its May 25 meeting, where he expects a vote on the agreement.