Cottage Grove may soon impose a tax on hotel stays to support a visitors bureau that would aim to attract more people to the south Washington County city.
The 3 percent tax would be charged at the city’s two hotels, with 112 rooms between them, and at wedding venues that offer lodging.
The funds then would be directed to a nonprofit organization operated by the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce and used to promote and market the city to visitors.
“The chamber is such an ideal partner, because obviously it benefits all of our businesses if we can bring more visitors and patrons to their front door,” said Interim City Administrator Jennifer Levitt. “That helps everybody in the community.”
The City Council last week approved a letter of intent from the Chamber of Commerce to establish the nonprofit, to be called the Cottage Grove Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Once the convention bureau is formed and receives nonprofit status, an ordinance establishing the lodging tax will go before the City Council. If approved, the tax could go into effect by September.
The bureau would be housed and staffed by the Chamber of Commerce and may be set up to include the neighboring river cities of Newport and St. Paul Park.
Each year, athletic events in Cottage Grove bring in an estimated $7.5 million, according to a recent city report. The city’s strategic plan calls for efforts to further bolster Cottage Grove’s reputation as a recreational destination.
That goal may be easier to achieve with concerted marketing efforts, said Jennifer Wenshau, executive director of the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.
For example, a softball tournament last year brought more than 50 teams to the city, Wenshau said. At the time, she said, she kept asking herself, “How do we keep these visitors here and encourage them to support local businesses?”
Having a visitors bureau to help answer those questions would be a “really positive thing,” she said.
“It’s going to be great to say ‘Hey, look at us, look what we can provide,’ and ‘We’d like you to visit and stay here with us,’ ” she said.
City officials know that Cottage Grove isn’t often thought of as a tourist destination. But there are attractions enough in the city to market to others, they say.
“We have a lot of events, facilities, parks and activities in this area, and it’s growing,” Wenshau said. “It’s important for a city and a chamber to support that [growth], and I think this is just another avenue to do that.”