Lack of collaboration on Tall Ships event spurs scrutiny of Visit DuluthA task force will recommend to the Duluth City Council tonight that it re-evaluate Visit Duluth’s operations.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
A task force will recommend to the Duluth City Council tonight that it re-evaluate Visit Duluth’s operations.
The group proposes Visit Duluth work harder to partner with the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on future events, such as tall ship festivals, instead of spearheading them independently. A draft report from the task force asserts that Visit Duluth “has avoided working with the DECC for large events” despite repeated attempts by the DECC to partner.”
But Terry Mattson, president and CEO of Visit Duluth, said that isn’t so.
“We’re very much looking at and speaking with the DECC,” he said.
Mattson pointed out that Visit Duluth and the DECC collaborated to bring three tall ships to Duluth in 2008.
In 2009, when Visit Duluth was laying plans for a 2010 Tall Ship Festival, there was a basic agreement that the DECC would organize the event if Visit Duluth worked to promote it. But Mattson said the DECC backed out of the event to reduce its financial risk at a time when its resources were already stretched to the limit by the push to complete work on the new Amsoil Arena.
It was only after the DECC lost its appetite for the event that Visit Duluth agreed to partner with the University of Minnesota Duluth on the 2010 Tall Ship Festival, Mattson said.
Dan Russell, executive director of the DECC, had a different recollection of events and said that despite repeated efforts to meet and work out the details of an agreement with Visit Duluth on how to partner on the Tall Ship Festival, the organization chose instead to work with the University of Minnesota Duluth on the event.
He suspects Visit Duluth’s failure to partner with the DECC may have stemmed from a reluctance to lose out on any potential profits. Russell explained that the DECC proposed to assume the full financial risk of the event, for better or worse.
“We wouldn’t be interested in a financial partnership,” he said. “We’d either make money or lose money on the event, but we wouldn’t be arguing over money at the end.”
At a meeting in July, Jack La Voy, a task force member and director of the Great Lakes Aquarium, said it was his understanding that Visit Duluth had rebuffed an earlier offer by the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center to take on the Tall Ship Festival.
Mattson responded there had been discussions about a partnership, but told La Voy: “Dan and the DECC decided they didn’t want to do it. It was their call.”
Members of the task force encouraged Visit Duluth to seek a Tall Ship partner, freeing up staff to focus more of their efforts on overall promotion of the city, rather than event-planning.
Mattson said Visit Duluth is ready and willing to hand over the event to another entity, if a partner steps forward.
“We’d rather not be the torchbearer,” he said. But Mattson said any successor will need substantial resources and serious commitment to the event.
“We’re in the tall ship business by default,” Mattson said. He described the event as “a hook to get new visitors to our community.”
Ideally, Mattson said the DECC or some other entity will take Visit Duluth’s place in organizing the festival.
“We don’t want to own this event in perpetuity,” he said. “It’s not in our best interests.”