Oen house asks how the city can draw more visitors

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Fun in the Park and other large events have already been used to bring thousands of people to the citys parks and businesses. Now a city task force is looking for ways to turn tourism into a sustainable local industry.  Saying that building an entire industry from scratch is challenging is a bit of an understatement.

But that’s more or less what Wilsonville is looking to do with tourism, which many in both the public and private business sectors in the city feel is a market waiting to be tapped. A new tourism strategy development task force met for the first time Oct. 16 and discussion that evening revealed the size of the task at hand.

Sure, Wilsonville has many attractive qualities. From its schools, parks, strong business core and convenient location straddling Interstate 5, the city has been a magnet over the past two decades both for business and families seeking a place to raise their children.

But how do you take those qualities and turn them into a draw for visitors, instead?

According to Bill Baker, a consultant with Total Destination Marketing of Tualatin, all of that and more could be used to market Wilsonville as a destination by re-examining what tourism actually is.

“It’s very misunderstood,” he said at the first of two public open house events aimed at developing the outlines of a citywide tourism development strategy.

When the public thinks of tourism, he said, it imagines Disneyland and brightly clad families smelling of sunscreen. But that, he added, would be a mistake, particularly when it comes to Wilsonville.

“Tourism is about economic development and how you can also use that as a springboard,” he said. “The reality is that tourists are more like this — the people we see every weekend walking in the forests, parks or trails, or maybe they’re here for a sports tournament. They look like us and they behave like us and very often they blend in.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Equestrian and horse-related businesses and events, such as the Country Classic at Hunter Creek Farms, provides a template for future tourism marketing in and around Wilsonville. Wilsonville’s strengths currently rest in its role as a retail hub, its strategic location in the north Willamette Valley and Portland metro area, a strong slate of public events such as Fun in the Park and the area’s historic and agricultural legacy. Even the city’s Korean War Memorial is a unique feature unmatched in the metro area.

“We have some great businesses here that attract people,” said Greg Leo, owner of The Leo Company, which offers marketing, government affairs and lobbying services. “We have the Family Fun Center, the shopping here is very good … and it’s a gateway to wine country.”

Wilsonville resident Susie Sivyer noted the town’s excellent schools, walkable streets and clean, well-kept streets are also enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Some mentioned the historic French Prairie agricultural and pioneer legacy, while others came back repeatedly to the city’s parks and the events they allow Wilsonville to host.

“It’s nonthreatening, it’s an open environment with a lot of parks,” Sivyer said. “It’s like where Beaver Cleaver lived and we brought it forward in time.”

Obstacles to recreating the city as a tourism destination include the kind of targeted marketing aimed at groups of people most likely to respond. How that information gets to those people also is critical.

"The biggest impact we have now is Oregon Horse Country," said Wilsonville resident Doris Wehler, referring to the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce initiative that has brought equestrian events, businesses and people to the Wilsonville area over the past five years.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Underappreciate city attractions like its Korean War Memorial, above, are one way to attract visitors to Wilsonville, according to input gathered a recent tourism development public workshop. "And what happened with Oregon Horse Country is they have a targeted, focused marketing campaign that’s international and built in with tourism," said Sivyer. "If we could apply the same formula to getting the word out I think we’d have a lot of success."

Certain infrastructure also is needed before the city can announce itself as a destination for bicyclists, another possibility that is finding strong support. The same is true, said Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, before the city’s strategic location on the Willamette River could be used to greater advantage.

“We’re located on a major river, which we haven’t tapped very much, but it’s a huge asset,” Knapp said, adding that the Willamette is one of 14 National Heritage rivers in America. “The amenities for that type of tourism need to be urban, and I think we are, and could grow more to be, a center for that type of tourism.”

A second public open house is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Wilsonville City Hall, 29799 SW Town Center Loop East. A related tourism strategy development task force will also hold a 6 p.m. Thursday meeting at city hall, the first of several planned sessions. The task force will use the results of the public open houses to help craft an overall tourism strategy that ultimately will be given the stamp of approval by the Wilsonville City Council sometime in the spring.

Josh Kulla can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 113. Follow him on Twitter, @wspokesman.

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