City Continues Critical Eye Over Disbursement Of Tourism Tax Revenue

DULUTH, Minn. — We’ve got a progress report on how the city of Duluth and its tourist attractions are spending millions of dollars in tourism tax revenue every year. The city has always known and approved how much revenue each attraction got to use, but that was about it – until now, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

From summer time to snowy winters, more than six million people visit Duluth, which adds up to nearly $12 million in tourism revenue annually from hotel, motel, food and beverage taxes.

But the specific use of those dollars by local tourist attractions, like Glensheen, Spirit Mountain and the Aquarium was never formally documented, as Mayor Emily Larson pointed out last year.

“Right now I really don’t have a good narrative about what we are doing. And I don’t have a good sense of accountability for the public,” Larson said in a September 2017 interview.

Since then, the city has created a survey of questions that tourism-driven attractions now have to answer in a report to the city — all to make sure tourism tax dollars are being allocated effectively and used appropriately.   Here’s a look at the 2017 allocated

“What is the best bang for the buck for these public dollars– and to do that we just need to have some sort of information base, and this is part of that effort,” said David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Montgomery says the reports from attractions this year have been reassuring involving the major source of revenue that’s strictly enforced by the state.

“These dollars have to be used for tourism-related purposes, which is primarily for promotion or capital projects. So the aquarium will use theirs to build out exhibits. Spirit Mountain will use theirs to finance their coaster,” Montgomery said.

And while Montgomery doesn’t foresee any big cuts or shifts in tourism tax dollars for attractions in 2019, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future because he says the city needs to stay on pace with the ever-evolving tourism industry.

“You have to keep things fresh to keep things really energized. And so there’s always an analysis going forward as to where the best places to invest those dollars to keep the overall tourism industry thriving and moving ahead,” Montgomery explained.

Part of the process for the city of better examining the use of tourism tax dollars has been educating locals about the attractions that help drive the millions in revenue. That’s where Community Days was formed this year. It’s a specific day at a specific attraction open to Duluth residents for free!

The next Community Days event is Friday, Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. for a free rail excursion at the Lake Superior and Mississipi Railroad.