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Petunia Fest? It’s on the calendar – now

Dixon site leaves out key items; Rock Falls' includes more info

The annual Petunia Festival in Dixon is one of the area's biggest tourism draws. Yet, the Dixon Tourism Board's Web page puts up some hurdles to finding information about the festival. The board's home is the Dixon Welcome Center, 106 W. River St.
The annual Petunia Festival in Dixon is one of the area's biggest tourism draws. Yet, the Dixon Tourism Board's Web page puts up some hurdles to finding information about the festival. The board's home is the Dixon Welcome Center, 106 W. River St.

DIXON – The Petunia Festival is Dixon’s trademark event, one of the area’s biggest tourism draws.

You want to get more information on this year’s fest? The Dixon Tourism Board’s Web page at puts up some hurdles.

While the page, which is part of the city’s website, includes Petunia Fest on its main menu, the information is general and could apply to any year. The listing fails to include dates or any information special to this year’s event, but it does refer tourists to the Petunia Festival’s more user-friendly site. (The fest, by the way, is July 3-7.)

The tourism part of the site doesn’t include an events calendar. Another menu item on the city’s website features a calendar, but until earlier this week, it included no listing for the Petunia Fest.

The tourism board fixed that problem after Sauk Valley Media called about it this week.

“There is some kind of glitch with our host or the city of Dixon,” said Vicky Turner, the president of the board, which is part of the city government. “We clearly put those times on the calendar for the Petunia dates. We have to work with the city of Dixon and the person who can do the upgrades. It’s been a little bit of a process, especially as of late.”

The Dixon Tourism Board got $91,486 from the city last fiscal year to run the welcome center and promote the community, said Paula Meyer, the city’s finance director. Two-thirds of that money was from the city’s motel tax, while the rest came from the city’s general fund. Another $64,000 of the city’s motel tax went to the Lee County Tourism Council, which included the Petunia Festival in its calendar.

In Rock Falls, the city pays a standalone nonprofit group called Rock Falls Tourism, which is based at the City Hall complex, to handle the job of promoting Rock Falls. Sterling, which has no motels, does not have a tourism apparatus.

Rock Falls Tourism directly posts to its website, but the Dixon Tourism Board’s three part-time staffers work with an employee in the city’s public safety department to add items to the calendar.

Turner said her organization hopes to get the help of an information technology employee that the city might hire this year.

Asked about the missing Petunia Fest information on the website, Mayor Jim Burke said he didn’t know why that was the case, but would ask the group.

“It certainly rates being on the calendar,” he said.

The last news item posted to the tourism Web page was March 11. It was Dixon Tourism’s salute to the Petunia Festival board, a piece that included a list of the musical openers and headliners since 1995.

“This year’s performers on the park stages have not yet been announced,” the news release says.

That announcement came about 2 weeks later. Spin Doctors, famous for the 1990s hits “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” will headline. For more than 2 months, the Dixon Tourism Board didn’t note this fact on its site, until it added the Petunia Festival calendar listing, where information included Spin Doctors.

Other sections of the Web page lack key information, particularly the portion containing the online visitors guide.

A couple of weeks ago, the guide’s section for recreation centers included Anytime Fitness, Digitz Dance Club and Plum Hollow Recreation Center. Digitz’s number is no longer in service and apparently closed. One major rec center still up and running was missing – YMCA.

It has since been added.

What about Lowell, Riverfront?

The guide’s section for attractions includes six. Missing were Lowell Park and the Dixon Riverfront, which some say is what helped attract the Mumford & Sons concert to Dixon last year. The Ronald Reagan Trail was one of the listed attractions and covers 13 communities with Reagan-related attractions such as Lowell Park. (A limited listing on the park’s nature center appeared in the history and heritage part of the online visitor guide.)

The park is a major draw and often merits a separate listing, but does not get that treatment on the Dixon Tourism Board’s Web page. By contrast, the Lee County Tourism Council page includes Lowell Park and the Riverfront among its 19 attractions for Dixon.

On the Rock Falls Tourism website, Lowell is included among area outdoors attractions.

Tim Wilson, Rock Falls Tourism’s new executive director, said his group’s website at will change dramatically in the next few weeks.

“Websites are expensive to put up and maintain,” he said.

Rock Falls Tourism has two employees – a full-time director and a part-time assistant.

A year ago, Sauk Valley Media reported that the Rock Falls site did little to promote attractions across the river in Sterling. At the time, the site had nothing about Sinnissippi Park and Westwood Fitness Center.

Since, the group has added Sinnissippi to its site, but not Westwood. At the time, an official from the organization acknowledged that things outside Rock Falls city limits – for instance, Westwood – help achieve the goal of bringing more tourists to Rock Falls.

Petunia Fest is not on Rock Falls Tourism’s calendar yet, but Wilson said he would add it.

Dixon Tourism hesitant to join forces

In Dixon, local tourism-related groups are seeking to consolidate their operations. The Main Street, Petunia Festival and Riverfront boards are planning to move into an office on the second floor of the Fifth Third Bank building downtown later this summer.

Dixon Tourism has been reluctant to join.

“We have a different directive than some of the others do – to bring in overnight, non-resident guests,” Dixon Tourism’s Turner said. “We certainly want what’s best for everyone. We’re open-minded about what might happen.”

The groups are still looking for a consolidation, said Josh Albrecht, Main Street’s executive director.

“We believe in joining forces and sharing resources, so we can have a better impact on the community,” he said.

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