Council Bypasses ‘Travel Superior’ For Commission to Handle Future Tourism Tax Distribution

An amendment was also approved stating that anything requiring $25,000 or more of tourism revenue would have to go out for bid to other entities, then approved by council.

SUPERIOR, Wis.- The Superior City Council decided to shake up the way they allocate tourism tax dollars, voting in favor of establishing a commission put forward by Mayor Jim Paine to handle the city’s tourism revenue, a role currently held by Travel Superior.

According to the Mayor, this does not cut out Travel Superior from the equation but opens the door to more options.

The council voted 6 to 4 in favor of the Mayor’s proposal, with Councilors Graskey, Kern, Fennessey, and Sutherland voting against it. It also came with an amendment aimed at reigning in how much control the commission has over those funds.

The commission changes the current system, which breaks up the annual tourism revenue by giving 30% to the city and the other 70% to Travel Superior, also known as a visitor’s bureau.

Travel Superior’s contract with the city is up at the end of the year.

Councilors Brent Fennessey and Keith Kern argued the Mayor brought the idea of changing to a commission too late.

Kern added, if they decided to end the contract after this year, they would have no solid plan going forward. “We still have no basis or guidelines for what we’re going to do.”

“We’re sitting here in the 4th quarter with a contract that sets to expire with an entity, leave them high and dry if the commission decides, their right to do that if they want to,” said the 9th District Councilor. “But what are we going to do for the first and second quarter until we figure out what the commission’s going to do?”

“We have a playbook with no plays in it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Paine said according to state statute if they didn’t vote on a commission now the only option they would have would be to stick with Travel Superior. Moving to a commission, he said, would open up the conversation.

“It does give us the possibility to ask questions we do not have right now,” said the Mayor, “there is no process for awarding this contract.”

“The statute is clear, it goes to Travel Superior and that’s it,” he said.

Taylor Pedersen, President and CEO of Travel Superior and head of the Superior-Douglas Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Mayor, who sits on the 20-person board of Travel Superior, has been attacking the organization.

Pedersen added that in terms of Travel Superior’s performance, the numbers speak for themselves. 

Mayor Paine stressed, this isn’t about attacking Travel Superior or the work they do, but using a method used by other cities to explore other options, such as a request for proposal.

“Major tourist destinations: Madison, Milwaukee, Dane County, Lake Geneva, these places all use this structure and they’re attracting the largest volume of tourism across the entire Midwest,” he said. “It’s working for them, I don’t know why it can’t work for us as well.”

At the previous city council meeting, Mayor Paine said a commission would be the only way tourism tax money could go toward potentially building a convention center within the city of Superior.

Following the approval of the commission Tuesday, the council did approve an amendment, stating that anything requiring $25,000 or more of tourism revenue would have to go out for bid to other entities — such as Travel Superior — then approved by council.

Anything under $25,000 would be up to the commission to spend.

The city brought in roughly $850,000 in tourism tax revenue before the pandemic in 2019.

This move comes just weeks after Duluth Mayor Emily Larson pushed for and ultimately got tourism tax dollars pulled from longtime Visit Duluth, and instead given to an outside marketing firm from the Twin Cities.

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