DULUTH – An Edina-based marketing company has been selected to promote Duluth tourism to the region and the world in a departure from nearly a century of local efforts to attract visitors.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said Tuesday that Bellmont Partners is "the right fit for right now" as the city looks to rebound from the pandemic and grow its $780 million tourism economy.

"Their vision for Duluth is fresh and dynamic and deeply engaging," Larson said.

The Duluth City Council will take up the proposed $1.8 million contract with Bellmont and their partner, Lawrence & Schiller, on Monday.

The company was chosen from more than two dozen applicants, five of which were based in Duluth, after the city put out a call for services.

Larson said Visit Duluth, the city's nonprofit tourism bureau, still will be asked to provide convention and event promotion, which is a sliver of its role over the past 85 years, in a contract worth $400,000.

"The Visit Duluth team and board of directors are working hard to reach a decision regarding the proposal to manage the convention and sports sales effort on behalf of the city," Visit Duluth CEO Anna Tanski said following a meeting with the Visit Duluth board Tuesday afternoon. "We've requested some additional information from Mayor Larson to assist in this process and ensure we make an informed decision that produces a successful outcome for the city."

The organization, which gets nearly all its funding from city tourism taxes, was first chartered in 1935 and has served as the city's convention and visitors' bureau since.

Residents unhappy with the decision to outsource tourism marketing services took to the city's Facebook page as Larson made her announcement. Former Visit Duluth spokeswoman Maarja Anderson Hewitt wrote: "So you're going to eliminate Duluth jobs and send tourism tax dollars to the Twin Cities?"

Larson said the "departure from the norm is significant" but that an outside voice can help expand the city's reach.

"Choosing a new approach is not about what is lacking. ... It is about what is possible," she said.

Bellmont has worked in the past with Explore Minnesota, South Dakota tourism and the Mall of America and promises a data-driven approach to building Duluth's brand.

"This is a dream assignment," partner Shelli Lissick said in an interview Tuesday. "We ... absolutely love the city. This is about elevating Duluth."

Larson also announced Tuesday that the city will create a tourism, arts and culture position paid for with tourism tax dollars. That person would be responsible for annual tourism tax applications and represent the city's interests in the tourism industry.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496