Does a convention and visitors bureau have a place in Woodbury?

Woodbury City Council is willing to pay to find out.

The city is moving ahead with a feasibility study to determine if a CVB or a destination marketing organization (DMO), which would impose a lodging tax on all six hotels in Woodbury and provide a one-stop shop to look up activities, amenities, hotel and dining services, is the way to go.

Although CVBs are beneficial to hotels, a lodging tax would put Woodbury hotels at a competitive disadvantage, said Kirk Schultz of the Madison Hospitality Group that manages the Country Inn and Suites.

If this new initiative doesn’t end up including nearby cities like Lake Elmo and Afton, it may hurt local hotels, he said.

“We just want to make sure we’ve got a fair playing field,” Schultz said.

Schultz encouraged Woodbury City Council to consider partnering with the cities, including Oakdale, where hotels and venues are located right across the Interstate 94 bridge.

“What’s good for the east metro is good for Woodbury,” Council Member Paul Rebholz said. “There is plenty of businesses that market themselves as being in north Woodbury anyway.”

The council met with CVB representatives from Burnsville and Roseville last week to get more answers on how the model has benefited their communities in attracting and retaining visitors.

Roseville’s Visitors Association started as a way to promote the city’s Oval skating rink, Julie Wearn said. But the use of it grew as it began working with hotels, Rosedale Center and the University of Minnesota in providing a one-stop shop for all events, places to visit and accommodation reservations.

“Tourism is a tremendous asset to our community,” she said, adding that the group’s networking efforts has brought visitors from Minneapolis and St. Paul into Roseville for more affordable rates.

A CVB or DMO would be an independent board of directors governed by its own bylaws and tasked with establishing marketing materials.

Maple Grove, St. Louis Park, Bloomington, Hastings, Eagan and Lakeville have CVBs, while Eden Prairie and Plymouth don’t.

If implemented, Woodbury would appoint one council member and one staffer to the board, but the board would have control over the organization’s operations.

Council Member Amy Scoggins said she wasn’t convinced Woodbury is in need of a CVB that would require the council to impose a lodging tax without authority to make any other changes in the future.

“They can do whatever they want,” she said. “I don’t want to start something and think that train has left the station and there is nothing we can do.”

Council Member Christopher Burns has been against imposing hotel taxes from the beginning of the conversation about implementing a CVB this fall.

Last week he said he couldn’t get behind the idea as long as it requires a lodging tax.

But Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said her conversation with hotels, the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce and local businesses has been in favor of a CVB.

“They’re telling us that’s what they want,” she said. “I think we need to listen to them and do the study.”

Rebholz said it’s often difficult to determine long-term benefits of economic development planning and a study may provide the metrics and answer additional questions on whether a CVB has its place in Woodbury.

The council ultimately decided to move forward with a $16,000 feasibility study. An official vote will take place in December. If the council decides to implement a CVB, it would cost the city $20,000.

“I’d like to keep an open mind,” Scoggins said. “I’m really not there yet.”