Sturgeon Bay Reacts to Door County Tourism Zone Decisions

Rarely does a one-page press release send business owners, government officials, and other civic leaders into a frenzy akin to that unleashed by last week’s memo from the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) stating that they would no longer provide marketing services to businesses in communities outside the Door County Tourism Zone, namely Sturgeon Bay, after Dec. 31 of this year.

The decision was made because the Door County Tourism Zone Commission (TZC) instructed the bureau that continuing to do so would violate the state statute enabling the zone’s existence (see “Sturgeon Bay’s Room Tax”).

Dennis Statz, owner of the White Lace Inn in Sturgeon Bay and one of 152 bureau members in the city of Sturgeon Bay, said the decision could be devastating, not just for individual businesses, but for relationships between Northern Door and Southern Door.

“We’re screwed,” Statz said in an interview after the decision was announced. “If we get kicked out it’s really going to hurt our business, but it’s going to hurt relationships up here, too.”

Statz, a bureau member for 20 years who has sat on the organization’s board for most of them, said he saw this coming.

“I’m disgusted by the whole thing,” he said. “I said from the start that Sturgeon Bay had to be dealt with first if you’re going to give this any thought. Getting the city of Sturgeon Bay to give up its cut is extremely difficult.”

He said it was clear 10 years ago that the city’s room tax would eventually be an issue.

“Lodging owners didn’t want this,” Statz said. “We really believed somewhere down the road it would cause a major problem.”

Statz estimated he’s spent more than $100,000 in dues and advertising over the course of his membership in the DCVB, but now is being punished in the name of geography.

“I’m getting kicked out of the organization, off the Web site, out of the guidebook?” he said. “But someone in Northern Door who was never been or only sporadically been a member gets to do it all for $350 a year?”

Statz then voiced his frustration more simply.

“Why should those of us who have done nothing wrong get kicked out?”

Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center (SBVC) Director Todd Trimberger called the decision “destructive” and said “there have been communication breakdowns on all sides throughout this process.”

Sturgeon Bay Mayor Tom Voegele said all players have to accept their share of the blame, put it aside, and move on.

“We need to work this out,” Voegele said. “We start by communicating… the leaders have to step a little more forward.”

Greg Stillman, manager of three Door County lodging establishments who has been involved in the SBVC and the DCVB for many years, suggested all the players take a step back and look at the situation from the perspective of the people these taxes are supposed to attract.

“The visitor,” he said, “doesn’t care about internal politics.”