Battle brews as visitor centers war for tourist town's love
On the east bank of the Galena River sits an agency with experience. The west side boasts an organization touting hope in an era unexplored.
But which is better? This question cleaves the community as surely as the river.
In October, the Galena City Council yanked its $400,000 in tax revenues from the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau CVB and dropped it in the hands of the brand new Greater Galena Marketing, Inc.
Since then, the battle between the two has culminated into a geographical conundrum -- one organization's visitors center sits straight across the river from the other's.
Now a new question remains: Which is a visitor to choose?
For some in the community, the situation means a catchy punch line.
"As a chef, I can say this is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen," said Chef Ivo Puidak, owner of the Galena Canning Company.
For years, the CVB took Galena's hotel/motel tax revenues and combined them with the rest of the county's earnings for a grand total of $1.2 million earmarked for marketing the region to would-be tourists.
To the organization dependant on countywide cooperation, little about the new division made sense.
"Why can't two entities work together?" Puidak asked in a previous interview with the TH.
As Galena's cash flowed into a GMI account, the CVB was left to operate with half the budget, meaning it needed to stop offering free services to Galena businesses and lodging owners and instead charge them for what they once got at no cost.
"We have gone above and beyond in continuing to market Galena, especially considering that we are not receiving any revenue from Galena," CVB director Betsy Eaton has told the TH.
A big benefit the CVB offered Galena was its visitors center on Bouthillier Street. But the GMI recently announced that it would transform the old Market House into a visitors center by April 1.
"It's a very awkward situation," said Eaton. "When the (GMI) formed, it was our understanding that they would be doing the marketing for Galena, not duplicating our services."
CVB supporters say things were just fine under the organization's hand, and they are frustrated that the CVB has pulled its free services and that the GMI is not yet in a position to fill that gap.
"What a mess," Dave Anderson, the owner of the Stillman Inn in Galena, recently said. "We're all so confused here. It still seems to be in a state of flux."
CVB officials argue their experience and their staff made it more than capable of marketing both Galena and the rest of Jo Daviess County, but with the option revoked, they are determined to continue promoting the area as a whole -- even with the extra competition in the area.
"I don't think the other visitor's center will have any effect on our traffic," Eaton said. "It's a duplication of our efforts, and I don't think it will affect our center, which is well established. People know we are here, and they will keep coming back."
The city of Galena wanted the Greater Galena Marketing, Inc. (formerly known as the Galena Marketing Initiative).
"I think the city is on the threshold of something very positive and constructive," said Galena Mayor Tom Brusch. "An independent marketing group is something we've been shooting for for some time, and the CVB did not get that done."
GGMI and city officials alike said they disliked that the CVB was an organization of the Jo Daviess County Board of Supervisors. That is why they wanted an independent group handling the hotel/motel tax revenues. Although the GGMI initially was a branch of the City Council, it recently became a non-profit, independent organization called Greater Galena Marketing, Inc. The Galena City Council is scheduled to approve its contract with the group on Monday.
"What was in our minds was that there are two bodies controlling the CVB," said GGMI board member Art Landen in a previous interview. "The real boss is the Jo Daviess County Board, and the other boss is the CVB Board of Directors. There was this constant back and forth, and it was hard to get things approved and moving."
When the GMI first formed, it set three goals -- establish a visitors center, start a Web site and hire staff. In the passing months, each has been accomplished to varying degrees, as the Web site is in a temporary state and the visitors center is slated to open in April.
"Results speak louder than anything, and I believe the GMI is going to be very successful," GGMI director Marsha Rinetti told the TH in a recent article.
More importantly, she said, area business owners support the organization's effort.
Patti Murphy, who owns the home decor shop At Home In Galena, said she "absolutely" supports the effort to change marketing hands.
"Change is always good," she said. "When you have been stuck in a rut for a certain length of time, you need some perking up."
Additionally, Murphy shares what she said is the city's viewpoint that the CVB spent too much time marketing the county rather than its "star destination."
"I think the CVB's concerns, and rightly so, were marketing the county," she said. "Well, Galena is the county, and it should be the mainstay for marketing."
As for duplicating services, Landen said GGMI will provide important services.
"As soon as we can get it done, there is going to be a state-of-the-art, jazzy Web site. And the visitor's center is going to be different," Landen said. "I guess people just kind of have to take a deep breath, and we'll fill the gap just as quickly as humanly possible."