Sturgeon Bay Talks Room Tax and Joining Door County Tourism Zone

In what could be one of the quickest government turnarounds in Sturgeon Bay history, the city council has agreed to negotiate with the Tourism Zone Commission (TZC) and the Door County Visitor Bureau (DCVB) on the city joining the tourism zone.

The city council formally adopted a motion to pursue joining the Door County Tourism Zone at its meeting Sept. 16. Aldermen voted to allow Mayor Tom Voegele and Alderman Tom Benzshawel to negotiate with the Tourism Zone Commission and join the zone, if three conditions are met:

• Agreement conditions are acceptable to both the TZC and the city council

• The Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center (SBVC) is able to continue its activities

• A recommendation is back before the council by Oct. 21.

Although vague, these conditions allow Voegele and Benzshawel some room for negotiations.

The decision comes on the heels of the DCVB’s announcement that businesses not in the zone would be eliminated from the organization’s marketing programs after Dec. 31, including its visitor guide and Web site, Many lodging owners consider the Web site a key driver of bookings.

The city council decided to table discussion of joining the zone for a year in July, prompting the TZC decision. But a Sept. 8 meeting between TZC Chairman Bob Kufrin, Voegele, SBVC Director Todd Trimberger, and DCVB President and CEO Jack Moneypenny and other city representatives finally produced a base for negotiating a solution to the impasse.

Sturgeon Bay instituted a 4 percent room tax in 1998, with 70 percent of the funds produced going to the SBVC to promote the city and run events. When the Door County Tourism Zone was formed in May 2007, it set a room tax of 5.5 percent, allocating 70 percent of collections to the only tourism-promoting agency it legally could, the DCVB, for the promotion of overnight stays.

The TZC is now made up of 12 Door County municipalities and has sought to bring the city on board from its inception. Though the city has said it wants to join the zone, it also wants to maintain its visitor center, but has struggled to figure out how to do both since the room tax dollars that have long been used to subsidize the SBVC would instead go to the DCVB if the city joined the zone.

The SBVC received about $223,000 in room tax revenue in 2007 to supplement its overall budget of over $514,000. Trimberger has said the organization could trim about $90,000 and still function but is still examining how to cover the rest.

“How can we do this and still keep SBVC in tact and retain it as a viable option to market the city?” Benshawel asked. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Alderman James Abeyta questioned the changing roles of SBVC staff and potentially their salaries, if the DCVB takes over the national marketing of the city.

“We’re basically outsourcing the marketing, as opposed to the SBVC” marketing the city, Abeyta said. “It seems to me there should be a shift in how salaries are paid, if duties are shifted, looking at it from an accounting standpoint.”

Aldermen Benzshawel and Jim Michaud abstained from voting on the issue.

Additional reporting by Myles Dannhausen Jr.