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Councilors question draft tourism plan

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Tourism advocates in Wilsonville are hopeful about the potential of the new World of Speed auto racing museum, which just announced it would be pushing back its planned opening date until 2015. City Council reactions to a draft tourism strategy for Wilsonville ranged from enthused to bemused.

In the end, though, councilors seemed largely accepting of the document recently presented to them by the city’s tourism task force.

The draft Tourism Development Strategy, created by Tualatin-based Total Destination Marketing, may not have been what councilors were hoping to see. But the draft does provide a strong jump-off point for the city’s tourism efforts, which thus far have been hampered somewhat by a rift between the Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce and city officials, both elected and otherwise.

“After seven months of effort I would have expected more substance in terms of building on, at least what I perceive, is a common base of awareness about the challenges going into this,” said Councilor Richard Goddard.

Most of the recommendations contained in the draft strategy — such as adopting an identity, partnering or finding funding sources — are standard operating procedure for any city looking to expand its options, Goddard added,

“Those are pretty commonly understood opportunities,” he said, asking for a more thorough explanation of the draft strategy, which calls on Wilsonville to form an independently-run nonprofit organization to take on tourism development and promotion for the city.

Lead consultant Bill Baker, however, seemed to take exception to those comments, as well as others made by Councilor Scott Starr in which Starr asked exactly what in the draft tourism strategy would allow Wilsonville to stand out from neighboring communities.

“I felt like I was having to search for what made Wilsonville special,” Starr said. “With the mission and vision, I felt you could take out Wilsonville and put in Tualatin, Lake Oswego or Forest Grove and it would be the same thing. So I’m wondering, what is our piece that makes us different?”

Baker appeared visibly upset by Starr’s comments.

“Are you suggesting this is a template where we just filled in the name of the city?” he said.

Starr pointed out that he could not find a prominent role for the business community in the draft strategy, something that makes little sense given the role of private businesses in catering to tourists.

“I didn’t see businesses as part of that,” he said. “And I didn’t know if ‘partners’ was how we reached out to them.”

He added that product development is a “huge issue” the city needs to address if it wishes to become a destination.

“Some of the things that you chewed up, use of the river, forest country, sports and recreation, bicycles, hotel convention type of things,” he said, “those are the five where I was like ‘Wow, how underutilized.’ If we did something, that would be the priority to start with, those five, based on how you guys stack things up.”

Finally, Starr said he would rather see limited public dollars go to product development as opposed to staffing a tourism and visitor group.

Councilor Julie Fitzgerald, council liaison to the tourism task force, admitted Wilsonville does not have the popular visitor attractions some other cities possess. She also noted the city can also take much better advantage of the advantages it does have.

“We don’t have a famous set of wineries, we don’t have a zoo, but we are soon to have a really cool car museum,” Fitzgerald said, listing other possible attractions, including the Town Center Park Korean War memorial, Graham Oaks Nature Park and others.

“We’re working with what we have, okay?” Fitzgerald said, adding that the draft report does not even touch on how to turn on the city’s location on the Willamette River into a draw.

“It’s going to take time and money to figure out how to capitalize on that,” she admitted. “We can’t magically make it all happen right now, but you’re seeing at the moment where we are.”

Even Mayor Tim Knapp, a supporter of the tourism strategy development efforts, expressed concern about the difficulties involved in forming and running an independent nonprofit group.

“I’m not sure if we can jump to a full-blown, fully independent group all in one shot,” he said. “I’m going to need a whole lot of help from somebody on how to build a truly independent functioning organization, because I don’t want it to be something that is overwhelmed or guided by one narrow segment of the community. I think it needs to have a fairly broad range of representation.”

The strategic task force will hold another meeting April 24 at 6 p.m. in the Willamette Room at Wilsonville City Hall, 29799 SW Town Center Loop East. It is open to the public.



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