The future of a board that promotes tourism in three northwest metro communities is clouded after its largest member announced its plan to leave the group at the end of the year.
Maple Grove's decision to withdraw from Minneapolis Northwest Tourism leaves Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center as the remaining members of the organization that in the past served as many as 10 cities.
Once called Visit Minneapolis North, the tourism board became Minneapolis Northwest Tourism in 1998. In addition to Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, the cities of Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Ham Lake, Mounds View and Shoreview have all at one time participated in the group.
Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are contractually obligated to remain part of the tourism board through the end of 2022 but would be free to leave at that time if they give an intent-to-leave notice before June 30. Maple Grove gave its notice last year, and plans to create its own convention and visitors bureau, said Maple Grove City Administrator Heidi Nelson.
"We saw this as an opportunity to support our businesses and move tourism travel forward in Maple Grove," Nelson said. "We have a lot of parks, trails, retail and special events. This will be a positive step for the city."
Northwest Minneapolis Tourism is largely funded by a 3% tax levied on hotel rooms. In 2019, hotel taxes in Maple Grove generated more than $800,000 and accounted for about half of the tourism board's budget. Brooklyn Center contributed about $515,000 and Brooklyn Park about $419,000, according to city documents from the three cities.
Maple Grove and Brooklyn Center both have 10 hotels, while Brooklyn Park has four, according to city officials. Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center both have convention centers, and both cities get "many, many hits on our website," said Cyd Haynes, Minneapolis Northwest Tourism's interim executive director.
City Councils in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park have several options going forward: They could choose to remain members of Northwest Minneapolis Tourism; they could vote to leave the board and set up a joint tourism bureau; they could both set up their own tourism boards; or they could simply exit and discontinue collecting the lodging tax.
Another option would be to remain part of the board but ask the Legislature for permission to divert some hotel room taxes to other tourism purposes, such as funding a community center expansion. In 2019, the Legislature allowed Plymouth to use its lodging tax to pay for recreational facilities and to fund a visitors bureau.
In Brooklyn Park, council members have warmed to the idea of dropping out of Northwest Minneapolis Tourism and branching out on their own.
"We were not always happy with attention we got or didn't get from the tourism board," Council Member Lisa Jacobson said during a recent council work session. "I want to look to something else to help our tourism and businesses do better."
Others wondered if teaming with their neighbor might be the way to go.
"My support would be for a Brooklyn Center-Brooklyn Park tourism board," said Council Member Wynfred Russell. "We could have a nice branding with 'Brooklyn.'"
Similar discussions are happening in Brooklyn Center, where council members debated their city's tourism future during a May 24 work session.
For now, talks in the two cities hardly spell an immediate end to Minneapolis Northwest Tourism, Haynes said.
"They are due diligence on the part of the Brooklyns," she said.
And even if city leaders take action by June 30, "it's just a letter telling us they want 18 months to think it through," Haynes said. To formally leave the tourism board, "it's a much longer process than that."
With membership soon to be just two cities, Haynes said her organization has been in contact with both Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center and is considering new options, including offering individual hotel and business memberships and adding other cities to the consortium.
"Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park have lots of green space and full-service conference hotels and have always been good for tourism," Haynes said. "We look forward to keeping that tourism strong."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768