City ponders rebooting tourism board

Budget calls for $93,000 in hotel/motel funds in year 1


FORT MADISON -  A proposal to re-establish the tourism board in Fort Madison met with varied responses from the Fort Madison City Council Tuesday night.

The discussion followed the regular City Council meeting as part of an hour-long work session.

Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld presented the proposal to the City Council with about eight members of a tourism task force on hand.

The task force has been meeting for several months to discuss what a new tourism focus in the city and county could look like.

The proposal includes hiring a full-time director with a $45,000 base salary plus benefits that would include insurance, bringing the package to $56,000 plus a $1,500 cell phone stipend.

When all expenses incluing trainings, dues, office expenses, marketing, Information Technology, and mileage are included, the task force's proposal was for $93,000 the first year. The second year would see expenses for the position increase to $104,500.

The revenues to cover the costs would come predominantly from the city's hotel/motel tax revenue, about $75,000 in the first year. Mohrfeld said the city collects about $283,000 a year from the tax revenue.

An additional $5,000 would come from fundraisers, while the task force projected $10,000 the first year in marketing grants, $1,000 in co-op marketing revenue, and $2,500 from cruise ship services for an estimated total of $93,500.

Year two of the position would see the hotel/motel revenue climb to $90,000 pushing the revenue to $108,500.

"The Lee County Tourism Task Force has been engaged in the strategic planning process for about six months," Mohrfeld said.

He said it started as a small group of three or four and then took on a regional flavor with three half-day sessions at Lee County Economic Development Group's facility in Montrose.

"We came together as a county to look at what tourism would look like moving forward for Lee County and then narrowed it down to what it would look like for Fort Madison."

He said the vision of the proposal is to Grow Fort Madison - Visit Here -  Stay here.

The Tourism Bureau would be an independent 501c6 organization with one full-time director partnering with the City of Fort Madison, Fort Madison Partners, Lee County Economic Development Group, and the Fort Madison Tourism Board, which is the current task force.

The board would include representatives from the city, hospitality, retail, industry, events, attractions, and citizens. The bureau has set a start date of Jan. 1, 2023.

The bureau would be housed, at least for the first two years, at the Fort Madison Partners' office in the old Cattermole Library.

Councilman Rusty Andrews pushed back that the entity could be possibly housed at the pavillion in Riverview Park.

"I'm not saying that's the perfect place, but I'm really hung up on shoving something else in the Partners' office. I'm sorry, but I've never stepped in there. I don't know what to go in there for," he said.

"It's sitting down there empty with the utilities paid on it and it was built as an office building. The only fear is someone sitting down there solely by themselves, but we had somebody solely sitting down in the basement of City Hall," he said.

"You're right by the Fort, right by the boat, by the museum...if you have decent management overview like this board, I thought that was a decent location."

Councilman Tom Schulz also pushed back on the proposal also saying there were better locations and that the Partners' building has no parking access and no handicap accessibility.

"I'm 100% on board, but I think what we've got in front of us today is not the direction we should be going," Schulz said.

Mohrfeld said the issue of where it would be located was kicked around a lot, but they wanted a place that was move-in ready with high speed Internet access.

Councilman Chad Cangas said he thought the whole proposal was very ambitious considering the price tag and that the city is just a year away from being in a precarious budget situation.

City manager David Varley said if the city does go with the tourism bureau, the city won't have as much surplus to fund other efforts.

"If we do this, we won't have as much flexibility to spend on things like Amtrak and pickleball courts. So those things we've funded in the past, we won't have the ability to fund in the future," Varley said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker asked the issue be put on the agenda for future action, but didn't want the council to micromanage the bureau.

"When we get to dictating how to do this and that and other things, we have to have faith in the subject matter experts to make the right decision. And if two or three years from now we see a direction that isn't appropriate, then we hold them accountable," she said.

The discussion ended with Mohfeld telling the council the issue would be brought back up and eventually be brought to the council for action.


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