Council endorses tourism plan

Revised Visit Minot project outlined

Despite the misgivings of one of its members, the Minot City Council on Monday endorsed Visit Minot’s revised plan for enhancing tourism.

The council previously had agreed to write a letter of support for Visit Minot in its grant application to the Economic Development Administration for a “start-up studio” in the Scandinavian Heritage Center. The studio would include expanded retail space, shelf retail for pop-up shops and meeting and co-working spaces for organizations and sporting groups involved in hospitality.

Visit Minot still is pursuing the concept, but instead of an expansion and remodeling of the heritage center, where the tourism bureau is located, the organization is proposing to move to a downtown location not yet finalized or identified.

Council member Tom Ross, who had disagreed with the original plan, declined to back the new plan. Ross initially had questioned the need and whether Visit Minot was stepping outside its tourism bounds. He raised similar issues Monday.

“I really want to jump on board,” he said, but he added, “I am not sure I like the direction.”

Ross questioned whether Visit Minot is moving away from its focus on attracting visitors to fill hotels.

Stephanie Schoenrock, executive director for Visit Minot, responded that increasing hotel occupancy remains the goal, but the approach has changed.

“It’s modernizing our efforts,” she said. “We need to do what we can to strengthen our entire tourism industry. When we strengthen our entire tourism industry that will, in turn, positively affect ‘heads in beds.'”

Schoenrock said the proposed project has been retitled as a Tourism Industry Marketing Incubator, although the intent and product remain the same as the startup studio model. The timeline and cost, estimated at just over $1 million, also are similar, she said.

She explained the change in location comes because the Scandinavian Heritage Association, which also utilizes space in the heritage center, does not support the building’s expansion and remodeling. She said Visit Minot’s contract from 1997 requires the association to sign off on any revisions to the building. The Minot Park District currently owns the building, although the association had raised funds and built the center as part of the Scandinavian Heritage Park.

Ross questioned whether operating a business incubator puts Visit Minot in competition with other local firms that assist small business, whether in web design, advertising or other functions. He cited concerns he is hearing in the community about Visit Minot moving away from its focus on filling hotel beds, which supplies the lodging tax income that supports tourism marketing.

The city council also approved a contract with Visit Minot last December that allocates $477,000 over three years toward expanding tourism, particularly sports-related tourism.

Schoenrock said an incubator model would provide tools to help hospitality businesses and organizations get to a place where they can utilize the business services available locally.

Council member Paul Pitner said he appreciates the fortitude of Visit Minot in finding a way to make its project happen rather than giving up over the inability to expand the heritage center.

“We have to be willing to invest in ourselves and in our community if we want to reap the benefit, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re moving this organization forward. We’re becoming more resilient. We’re setting ourselves up for decades to come,” Pitner said. “I wish the best of luck to Visit Minot in its application. I really hope that we get this because this is what’s best for Minot.”

The council voted 6-1 to offer a letter of support for the updated project. Schoenrock said Visit Minot expects to submit the grant application within the next few weeks.


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