Scott County’s four major entertainment attractions have begun working together with the cities of Prior Lake and Shakopee in an attempt to boost tourism.
Canterbury Park, Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel, the Renaissance Festival and Valleyfair already draw about 4.5 million visitors a year, according to representatives of the venues. But they believe that number could be higher — with more spending spilling over to other area merchants — if they did more to promote one another.
“We have thousands of people coming to Canterbury Park. They should all be exposed to information about other things to do down here,” said Randy Sampson, the racetrack’s president and CEO. “By working together, we think we can get people to come from farther away, do more things and stay longer.”
The initiative is an extension of a deal struck two years ago by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Canterbury that both agree has been a success. Under that agreement, Canterbury dropped plans to add video slot machines that could have eroded business at the tribe’s Mystic Lake Casino. In return, the tribe agreed to pay tens of millions to boost track winnings at Canterbury over the next decade.
The purse enrichment deal has boosted attendance, the amount of money wagered and the number of horses racing at Canterbury. In 2013 nearly 460,000 people came to the track, up more than 12 percent from 2012, and the track set a record for average daily attendance. “We had to turn down people wanting to race here because we didn’t have enough stalls,” Sampson said.
Under the agreement, Canterbury and the tribe also have begun working together to strengthen each other’s business while fending off attempts to expand gambling elsewhere in the metro area. Their marketing partnership has included a customer- rewards card at Canterbury that allows cardholders to earn points when they bet on races and then use the points to pay for meals at Mystic Lake’s steakhouse or get discounts at its golf course.
“We have a number of programs to cross-market our properties,” said Tom Polusny, vice president and general manager at Mystic Lake. In addition to the loyalty programs, a trolley shuttles guests between the track and the casino during race season. Canterbury and Mystic Lake also hold VIP events at each other’s properties. “Our respective teams work to develop an integrated and cooperative marketing approach that is a win-win for both businesses,” Polusny said.
Sampson said the latest initiative will allow all four venues to explore other joint marketing efforts. “We’ve never had a cooperative marketing arrangement with Valleyfair or the Renaissance fair, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. It makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Prior Lake Mayor Ken Hedberg said the next step for the group will be to develop a unified brand. The goal is to come up with a name, like the Wisconsin Dells or the North Shore, that defines the entire area for would-be visitors and can be used to promote a variety of entertainment and recreational attractions, he said.
“We hope to have a brand name that the four venues could start promoting this spring and summer as the tourism season gets cranked up,” Hedberg said.
Sampson said management and marketing teams from the four businesses already have some possible names. “It’s not an easy task. We began by throwing some names up on the board, but there wasn’t anything where everybody said ‘that’s perfect.’ ”
The cities of Prior Lake and Shakopee are participating in the group’s discussions now but will take on a larger role in the collaborative marketing effort in 2015, Hedberg said.
“As mayor, I want to make sure we have some public discussion about encouraging more visitors, what that means for the city both positive and negative, and how do we mitigate the potential negative impacts like traffic?” he said.
Prior Lake is the most important recreational lake in the south metro area, but its heavy use by residents and nonresidents has put it on an EPA list of impaired waters. Late last year, a commercial marina owner’s proposal to expand his dock drew intense opposition from area homeowners. They said it would create traffic and parking problems in addition to added stress on the lake. The city sidestepped the conflict by establishing a moratorium on such projects.
“We’ve got all these visitors, and we’re going to get more,” Hedberg said. “How do we welcome them, have the right kind of businesses so that we benefit from them and how do we mitigate the potential negative impacts like traffic and road degradation? It’s an important topic and we will have public dialogue on it.”