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Three local organizations talk merger

More talks to come, but Tourism Board not in favor of consolidation

DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke hopes Thursday was a beginning.

Two representatives each from the Riverfront Commission, Dixon Main Street and Dixon Tourism talked at City Hall about the idea of becoming one entity in front of about 22 residents.

The mayor moderated and City Commissioners Dennis Considine and Jeff Kuhn sat in.

Although no action was taken, except for the mayor suggesting another meeting, each group was able to gauge what they do and where they stand on the idea, which the mayor pointed out is the first step to any coordination.

“We had a really productive discussion and good things came out of this,” Burke said. “Even if we go no further than where we’re at now, I think each side got an idea of their niches in the community and will be more cooperative with each other in the future.”

The idea originated in November 2011 when Main Street Executive Director Josh Albrecht approached the City Council with a concept his board proposed. What if the Riverfront, Main Street and Tourism kept its boards intact, but combined services under one executive administrator and an advisory board with members from each group?

As Main Street representative Mike Venier pointed out Thursday: “How can we maximize the value of the three entities involved and reduce any redundancies?”

In 2011, Tourism initially backed out of those talks, while Riverfront showed interest. Plans were diverted when the city’s former comptroller, Rita Crundwell, was arrested in April for stealing nearly $54 million from the city.

Thursday’s meeting brought the idea back to life as each side voiced its initial reaction to the concept. Representatives from Main Street and the Riverfront favor a consolidation of services, while representatives from Tourism remain tentative on a merger, but willing to cooperate more.

If it ain’t broke ...

Tourism board member Colleen Brechon, who also is a city commissioner, wants to know how a consolidation could help that board.

Tourism’s objective is to bring visitors to Dixon and generate hotel tax, which circles back to it for funding. It operates on about an $80,000 budget, with expenses mostly involving advertising outside of Dixon.

“We already feel we are doing a great job and maximizing what we have. I don’t see any problem to fix,” Brechon said. “What I want is for someone to tell me how I can help them more than I am now. That’s where I’m at.”

Brechon supports cooperation among the groups and will continue talks, but she is against a merger.

Tourism President Vicky Walter asked if their group can even legally consolidate, since its revenues are earmarked for promotion outside of the city by municipal code. Both Brechon and Walter were concerned a consolidated group could lose sight of tourism’s mission and take away from what’s already being done.

“Our job is to bring people to Dixon,” Brechon said to the other groups. “Your job is to make sure they have a good time.”

‘Bigger, faster, stronger’

Main Street’s Venier said the idea is not to take away from what any of the groups are doing, but to work together to be better.

“When I heard this, I didn’t think about decreasing anyone’s budget, as much as if we work together, can we put more money toward items such as advertising,” Venier said. “I saw it as, let’s get together to be bigger, faster, stronger.”

Venier and fellow board member Scott Brown said having an executive director, which tourism does not, helped them pull off an event as large as Mumford & Sons coming to Dixon in August. The idea of all three groups being under one roof also was suggested to save money.

Main Street operates on about a $90,000 budget, largely from donations from businesses. It’s objective is to promote and preserve the downtown.

“I don’t think you realize how much it helps to have someone in that role (of executive director), until you see how efficient everything gets put together,” Brown said.

Something has to change

Riverfront Commission Chairman Larry Reed said Main Street’s proposal made sense.

The commission’s objective is to promote the city’s riverfront; it operates on about a $25,000 budget, which is almost entirely for maintenance and staff. It already shares an office with Main Street.

“I see a lot of positive in Main Street and the Riverfront working together,” Reed said. “I see the city of Dixon coming in to help with the maintenance of Heritage Crossing and working with Main Street to coordinate events, plus they have a large pull of volunteers than we do to help out.”

“Doing nothing isn’t really an option,” said John Varga, who also represented the Riverfront. “If we don’t come together, I don’t see us going anywhere.”

The Riverfront has not been able to reach any of its project goals of building a boat dock or pedestrian bridge, because its focus has been on operations and maintenance.

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