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Minot City Council approves Visit Minot project concept

Visit Minot project gets preliminary approval

File Photo Minot Vistas pinch-runner Eli Nissen rounds third base and heads home in a baseball tournament hosted at Corbett Field last June that drew teams from around the state.

Visit Minot received preliminary approval from the Minot City Council Monday for $477,000 over the next three years to boost tourism efforts.

“We are not looking for a handout,” said Stephanie Schoenrock, executive director for Visit Minot, told the council. “This money is intended to work. Every penny of it is intended to work very hard. The projection that we have committed to is a $10 million economic impact.

“A lot of people think of tourism as being fun and it absolutely is. But the reality is our industries have tended to be an economic engine. It’s intended to move some dollars,” she added.

The primary focus of the project is to recruit team events to Minot. However, the project includes two other components. The first component is data collection and management. Schoenrock explained GPS would be used at common local visitor locations to track zip codes of visitors. Credit card data is used to determine spending.

“The point of doing that is really so we can have a better gauge on what is the value of some of these events that are coming to town,” Schoenrock said. “The benefit of data collection and management and this component is that we’re able to do smarter marketing and provide our stakeholders with valuable information.”

The second component is destination development. It provides marketing and customer service training to the hospitality industry.

The third and largest component is tourism development around team events.

“This is not just sports,” Schoenrock said. “If they’re coming for choir, if they’re coming for the arts, if they’re coming to town from outside of Ward County and dropping money here, injecting money into our hospitality industry, Visit Minot wants to work with them.”

A portion of the $477,000 would go directly to buy down costs of events but a large part of the spending would be on coordination efforts. For instance, Visit Minot has been working with Minot State University women’s hockey to bring the 2022 national tournament to Minot. It is not just MSU going after the tournament but Visit Minot and the community, Schoenrock said, noting that is the type of collaboration that could benefit from the project.

Often sports program directors and coaches say they could do more if they had help, and Visit Minot can provide that help, she said.

“This is the one component that I’ve been energized by. There is a universal opinion that youth sports tourism is expected to rebound more quickly than traditional tourism. So I believe this is an opportunity before us,” Schoenrock said. “I do believe that this project can be a bridge for the hospitality industry between COVID and recovery.”

Working with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Visit Minot has identified a sports module that provides unique formulas for different events to measure the economic impact. Visit Minot would provide reports to the city based on these measures.

Council member Paul Pitner said Minot needs to take advantage of its sporting facilities.

“I don’t think a lot of these buildings or facilities are being used to their maximum potential,” he said. “Let’s start to bring people into our community and have them stay here. The only thing that goes on in Minot isn’t the State Fair and isn’t the Hostfest. We have a lot of things to offer year-round.”

Council member Tom Ross, a former board member for Visit Minot, opposed the project’s funding request.

“I can’t see spending a half a million dollars,” he said. “In my experience, it’s been done before.”

In the past, Minot attracted tourism by welcoming teams in ways that made them feel special, and it was done with volunteers, he said. This past winter, MSU conducted a soccer tournament in its bubble that drew 95 teams, and it didn’t cost any tourism dollars, he said. The work Visit Minot has done with MSU to attract a hockey tournament has cost no extra dollars, he said.

“This is, in my opinion, a fluff piece to get operating money when we could be spending that money in helping businesses across the board,” Ross said.

Pitner responded Minot has done well in attracting tournaments recently but it cannot be sustained.

“We can’t continue to ask coaches and ask volunteers to carry the load,” he said. “We need to do a better job to get resources – which is what we’re doing – to these individuals, to these coaches.”

Council President Lisa Olson said the city has invested in facilities through its Community Facilities Fund and now needs to take the next step.

“This is just finishing up that investment. This is just going to be icing on the cake. We’ve got the facilities. Now let’s toot our own horn. Let’s get people in here,” she said.

Schoenrock reported Visit Minot’s budget of $550,000 compares to $3 million in Fargo, $1.5 million in Bismarck, $1.1 million in Grand Forks and $950,000 in Williston. Income comes from the city’s lodging and rental car taxes. That income has declined significantly this year, forcing Visit Minot to draw on reserves.

Visit Minot recently hired an events coordinator, replacing a sales director position to reflect the shift in focus to marketing.

The council voted 6-1 to support the proposed project, with Ross voting against.

The council’s support Monday approves the project concept. Agreements with Visit Minot still must be drafted for action by the council. Money would come from city sales tax dollars designated for economic development.

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