The Superior City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 14, split to create a tourism development commission and allocate 70% of room taxes collected by the city to the commission’s discretion.
The council voted on two measures: to allocate revenue to the commission for tourism development and promotion and to create the commission. The votes were 6-4 and 7-3 for the measures, respectively.
Once the allocation was approved by councilors Nicholas Ledin, Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Jack Sweeney, Tylor Elm and Ruth Ludwig, councilor Lindsey Graskey voted in favor of the amendment and creating the Superior Tourism Development Commission. Councilors Brent Fennessey, Craig Sutherland and Keith Kern opposed all the measures.
“We have to recognize the tools that are offered to cities to unlock opportunities, to create competition and all the potential for projects and ideas that are just left out of the conversation right now,” Van Sickle said.
Creating the tourism development commission is expected to provide greater flexibility for tourism development and promotion that is currently handled by Travel Superior. The city’s contract with the organization expires at the end of the year.
Mayor Jim Paine proposed going to a commission to gain flexibility in how the money is spent. A commission could utilize Travel Superior for promotional efforts but would have the opportunity to invest in tangible municipal assets that could also promote tourism, such as developing a convention center or other amenities that would encourage overnight stays.
Kern said the proposal to create the commission was rushed and the council had no clear plan on what the commission would do to promote tourism.
“We have a playbook with no plays in it,” Kern said.
The six-member commission has not been confirmed by the council.
By creating the commission now, Paine said the commission would have 3½ months to develop a plan before the city’s contract with Travel Superior expires.
Fennessey said he doesn’t see the need to change the current structure and had concerns that Superior would lose the broad spectrum tourism promotion that Travel Superior provides.
Paine proposed amending the proposed ordinance to address questions posed by the public and members of the city council. The amendment would establish the powers and duties of the commission as defined by state law and would require the commission to follow city bid procedures for expenditures greater than $25,000. Such expenditures would be subject to council approval. It removed a requirement that all expenditures would require council approval.
“I have to recognize that the statute does seem to envision a certain amount of independence for the commission,” Paine said. “It should have the authority to take some action. But I did find a number of cities that do have some oversight.”
Fennessey asked why the mayor would recommend less oversight by the council.
Paine said the city allows department heads and commissions to spend small amounts of money without getting council approval and this would be no different.
“What we’re creating here, we don’t walk away from this if we vote for it tonight,” Sweeney said. “It’s a living document. We have some oversight to do. I’m sure some things will change through the years … someone’s going to have some eyes and ears on this. So, to do our due diligence some things may change and if they have to change, they will change.”
Sweeney said the city has done its due diligence on the proposal.
“We have to open the door and see what opportunities are out there,” Sweeney said.