Visit Minot proposes expanded heritage center role in plan to seek EDA grant
Expanded heritage center role included in plans
Visit Minot is pursuing a federal grant for a wide-ranging project that would include an expansion and renovation of the Scandinavian Heritage Center.
The Minot City Council got on board Monday, approving a letter of support for Visit Minot’s request to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, estimated at between $3 million and $4 million. The letter promises $200,000 from the city, which would come from sales tax dollars designated for economic development.
The EDA has funding through the American Rescue Act that includes grant money for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation projects.
“We’ve customized a program that will give us the best shot at getting a piece of that money,” said Stephanie Schoenrock, executive director for Visit Minot.
The program encompasses six of eight project types that are eligible for funding. Visit Minot is working with Minot Park District on an outdoor recreation element but asked for city support for construction on the heritage center, where Visit Minot and Norsk Hostfest are headquartered, to create a “start-up studio.”
“There’s going to be four components to the start-up studio,” Schoenrock said. “Number one is retail.”
The construction would create expanded retail space and shelf retail for pop-up shops. It also would create a small meeting space for use by organizations and sporting groups that are involved in hospitality, defined as activities that bring in revenue from outside Ward County.
The third component is a co-working space. An equipped office will be set up for organizations engaged in hospitality-related activities to utilize as needed in setting their events.
“The reason that EDA likes this model is, essentially, it provides the tools to get these new businesses, expanded businesses, organizations, events on their feet. It’s meant to help give them a hand up,” Schoenrock said. “The other component that’s really important to EDA is workforce development, and that’s another part that we’re talking about here.”
Visit Minot is working with the Severson Entrepreneurship Academy at Minot State University on ideas such as utilizing interns to manage the retail space and help with marketing to provide the workforce development component.
The estimate for the start-up studio is $1.3 million.
Schoenrock said the proposal continues to be in development so a final grant request amount isn’t likely to be definitely determined until the end of the month. Visit Minot has three weeks before it needs to submit its grant application.
A local match is a requirement in the application, which led to Visit Minot approaching the city council for $200,000. The council agreed on a 6-1 vote, with council member Tom Ross dissenting.
“It just sounds like we’re doing a project to have a project,” Ross said. “I don’t know if there’s a need for retail space, the meeting space. I personally don’t see it.”
He added much of the activity seems more appropriate for an economic development organization than for a tourism entity.
“To me, it’s kind of — stay in your lane. I just don’t see where this project fits the vision of bringing people in,” he said.
“This is their lane. This money is allocated to organizations like this, making investments in communities for these types of projects,” council member Paul Pitner countered.
Pitner said Minot needs to give Visit Minot the tools to be successful.
“We haven’t really invested in Visit Minot. We give the 2% lodging tax by ordinance, but that’s really the only investment we made into them,” said Pitner, who represents the city on the Visit Minot board. “They are a great community partner. I’m willing to invest in our community partner.”
“I can see this being a really good investment for our community,” council member Lisa Olson added.“Two hundred thousand dollars seems like a lot of money, but the benefit that we could get — between $3 and $4 million for Visit Minot — it just makes sense.”
Council member Stephan Podrygula voiced concern over the ad hoc nature of the program, which is separate from any comprehensive plan for tourism’s future. He also questioned how the program’s success would be measured.
Schoenrock said Visit Minot is increasing its tracking of the amount of money coming into Minot from outside the county.
“The ‘good’ money in tourism is money from people from outside the area,” Schoenrock said. “Our mission is to go after as much good money as possible. More and more all the time. And so that’s one way that we like to track it. There’s a number of ways that we’re trying to move the needle. We’re not going after just one thing. We have a big focus on sports right now, but we can’t put all of our eggs in that basket. We have to put them in lots of baskets.”