Superior’s City Council referred a proposal to create a tourism development commission to its committee of the whole after more than an hour of public comment and debate Tuesday, Sept. 7.
The commission would decide how 70% of the hotel and motel room taxes collected in the city would be spent to promote tourism in the community.
Currently, the city contracts with Travel Superior to handle tourism promotion.
Mayor Jim Paine proposed the change after learning many Wisconsin communities utilize a commission rather than sending the money directly to a tourism entity like Travel Superior. The proposal garnered the support of the finance committee in a 2-1 vote on Aug. 24.
“I’m hopeful that if it goes to a committee of the whole, that’s our council and our mayor’s office taking more time to understand the gravity of the situation and to understand what the implication on local tourism would be,” said Taylor Pedersen, president and CEO of the Travel Superior.
- Superior considers commission for tourism
Paine said a commission is the most common tool municipalities use for tourism development in the state and would provide flexibility the council doesn’t have under Wisconsin law.
The city is required to turn over 70% of revenue generated by hotel and motel taxes to a commission or entity for the express purpose of promoting and developing tourism that results in overnight stays.
Wisconsin law defines tourism promotion and tourism development as marketing projects such as advertising; producing printed or electronic promotional materials and recruitment; providing transient tourist information services; and tangible municipal development such as building a convention center. The law prohibits the use of hotel-motel room taxes for construction of lodging facilities.
The city of Superior and the Development Association have launched a feasibility study that could lead to building a convention center in Superior.
Travel Superior, which is funded by the city, the county and state tourism grants, handles marketing and provides tourism information services in the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.
Paine, the only city official who serves on the 21-member board that oversees the Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce and Travel Superior, said the city doesn’t have a say in how Travel Superior spends the money.
Pattie Soliday owned and operated PS Advertising from 1982 to 2020. She said she favors the tourism commission and would volunteer to serve on it.
She also favors a convention center but said she is concerned that if taxpayers are asked to foot the bill, it would cause an uproar and defeat the project.
Create the commission, bond for a convention center, pay for it with a portion of the room tax revenue, and award a two-year contract to Travel Superior to handle the marketing, Soliday suggested.
Paine said the commission structure wouldn't prevent an organization from receiving funds “as long as the organization promotes tourism development."
Still, councilors had many questions about the change, such as what parameters the commission would operate under.
“We want to have checks and balances in place,” Council President Tylor Elm said.
He proposed requiring council approval for commission decisions, which the council accepted.
However, councilors rejected a proposal from Councilor Craig Sutherland to include finance committee approval, as well.
“If we micromanage, we’re going to lose a lot of momentum on this commission,” said Councilor Lindsey Graskey, who has been recommended to serve on the tourism development commission. “It’s just a lot of jumping through hoops to get something passed.”
After Elm’s amendment passed, Councilor Keith Kern suggested sending the proposal to the committee of the whole so the council could come to an agreement. The council approved the referral. Kern has also been recommended to serve on the commission.
Paine said he would likely give the committee of the whole the power to act, which would allow the council to create the commission at that meeting. A date for the meeting hadn't been set as of the Telegram's deadline.
This story was updated at 11:07 a.m. Sept. 12 to correct the timeframe Patricia Soliday owned PS Advertising. It was originally posted at noon on Sept. 9. The Telegram regrets the error.