The nonprofit tasked with drawing tourism to Minneapolis will receive a million-dollar boost in its city funding, after local leaders say it fixed problems found in a scathing 2018 audit.
The city agreed earlier this month to supplement the roughly $10 million it already provides every year to Meet Minneapolis. The extra money, to be doled out over five years, will help promote the city's new cultural districts program and expand work with its Sister Cities.
"These are areas that we felt were important, and cultural districts, especially, is at the very heart of what we're working on" to improve economic inclusion, Mayor Jacob Frey said in an interview.
The city pays Meet Minneapolis to promote tourism in Minneapolis and draw to the city large events, such as conventions or high-profile sports competitions. The majority of that money comes from sales or entertainment taxes or events held at the Convention Center.
A city audit released in 2018 found that Meet Minneapolis overestimated its economic impact by nearly $200 million over three years, in part by double-counting some events.
While the organization said it uses other metrics — such as hotel stays or the number of events booked at the convention center — to measure its success, some city officials have said they use economic impact numbers to decide how to spend city dollars. It was one of the factors considered when the city gave $140 million for the Target Center renovation.
Frey, who serves on the board of Meet Minneapolis along with six City Council members, said he supports what the organization is doing.
"The whole purpose of the audit was to improve performance and then make necessary corrections and, thanks to that corrective plan through the audit, we've had issues that have been both identified and addressed," the mayor said.
If the group meets its performance goals, the city anticipates giving roughly $54 million to Meet Minneapolis over the course of its current contract, which runs through 2024.
That includes the additional $1 million approved by the council and mayor earlier this month.
Melvin Tennant, the president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, said in an interview last week that the nonprofit has made all of the changes the auditor suggested. A city auditor confirmed that in a public meeting last year.
"It is our livelihood and our lifeblood, so we want to make sure that there is accuracy in the results that we report," Tennant said.
Tennant said Meet Minneapolis retrained employees on how to properly enter data into their computer systems and worked with its software vendor "to avoid these errors again."
He said the organization also changed its conflict-of-interest policies to ensure consistency and increased the amount of documentation it provides to the city, as recommended by the audit. The audit found that the city had been relying on verbal reports to determine whether Meet Minneapolis met certain benchmarks, some of which are used to determine bonuses.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who is not on the Meet Minneapolis board, slammed its bookkeeping after the audit was released. She said she's pleased with the progress they have made since then.
"To me, it was that willingness to correct issues that allowed me to support this contract extension," Palmisano said.
Tennant said Meet Minneapolis plans to use the bulk of the additional money to market the city's new cultural districts, six distinctive neighborhoods that will receive extra city funding for litter pickup, better lighting and renovated storefronts.
It's too early to tell exactly how Meet Minneapolis will market those districts.
"Since it's new and it was just approved, a lot of those details have not been firmed up," Tennant said.
A smaller portion of the extra funding will be devoted to promoting Minneapolis' Sister City programs. Minneapolis has 12 sister cities across five continents.
Meet Minneapolis helps coordinate visits from Sister City officials or when Minneapolis officials travel to them, often to focus on topics such as education, commerce or transportation. They also help organize Sister Cities celebrations at the Aquatennial.
"We have some very active City Council members with various Sister City relationships," Tennant said, "and we just explained that the responsibility has grown over the years, and they agreed with us and felt as though these additional dollars would allow us to do the job."