Last October, the Lake Tomahawk Town Board made the decision to opt out of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, which the town had become a partner in during 2010.
At last Wednesday’s meeting of the Arbor Vitae Town Board, there were distinct rumblings Arbor Vitae could very well follow suit.
The chamber’s executive director, Krystal Westfahl, visited Arbor Vitae town chairman Frank Bauers on July 9.
“The Minocqua chamber’s thinking about changing their brand,” he told supervisors Ryan Johnson, Brian Nerdahl, Jeff Hunter and Ashley Roach. “They would drop the names of Arbor Vitae and Woodruff off their brand and instead of the ‘Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce’ it would simply say, ‘Let’s Minocqua.’ Arbor Vitae and Woodruff would have no name recognition at all.”
Bauers said Westfahl asked him what he thought of that.
“I told her, ‘Not much,’” he said.
“Do they think they’re trying to drum up business by changing names like that?” Johnson asked.
“At least ‘Minocqua Area’ had the word ‘area’ in it,” Roach said.
Town treasurer Melody Gillespie said the chamber’s web page no longer has the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce logo in the upper left hand of the home page’s screen but instead, just “Minocqua.”
“So, they’re kind of getting away from that,” she said.
The logo, including not only Arbor Vitae and Woodruff but also Lake Tomahawk, still appears in the lower left corner of the website’s home page.
“Are they taking away the support of other areas or just the verbiage?” Roach asked.
“Their brand is just gonna say, ‘Let’s Minocqua,’” Bauers said. “That’s it.”
“When it comes to things like how they support our picnic and things?” Roach asked again.
Johnson said it didn’t seem the chamber would be helping the town at all, then.
“I go on to their website (looking for Arbor Vitae) and I see ‘Minocqua,’ I’m going to assume I’m in the wrong place,” he said.
Bauers said years ago, the chamber was called the Minocqua, Woodruff, Arbor Vitae Chamber of Commerce.
“Then, it became the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “We weren’t happy with that ... the chamber director then never informed us of the name change.”
The next comment from Bauers set the tone for the rest of the discussion.
“If that brand says ‘Let’s Minocqua,’ what is the sense of us even belonging to the chamber of commerce?” he asked.
“I agree,” Johnson said. “
Nerdahl said he believes it’s the town’s resorts and motels which would lose their identity.
“They’re collecting the (room) tax, which gets forwarded to Minocqua,” he said. “They’re not getting any advertising out of it. It doesn’t seem fair.”
Johnson asked Bauers if he was just asked what he thought about it.
“Like they might not do it?” he asked.
Bauers explained Westfahl had come to him and then was going to visit Woodruff town chairman Mike Timmons to see what he thought of “Let’s Minocqua!”
“Neither of you two would support that,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand why ... she’s just trying to soften the blow when it does happen?”
“I hope she’s not trying to soften the blow because if she is, the big hammer’s gonna come down,” Bauers said. “They can take that chamber if they want and it can be the Minocqua chamber ... we know all the fundraising, all that stuff is in Minocqua now. What is geared in Arbor Vitae? Nothing.”
If the branding was going to say “Let’s Minocqua,” he said, all the Arbor Vitae Town Board would have to do is eliminate its room tax ordinance.
Town clerk Mary Reuland said the only reason the town has a room tax ordinance was because there were three towns — Minocqua, Woodruff and Arbor Vitae — joined together in a chamber.
“That’s what made us have to have a room tax commission and the ordinance,” she said. “My question is can we drop from the chamber and really and truly, any business that wants to could still be part of the Minocqua chamber, but they’d be paying their room tax to Arbor Vitae and then we would have restrictions on what we could use it as.”
Tourism related activities was an example she and Nerdahl mentioned.
Johnson pointed out if the town wasn’t a part of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, a lower room tax could be charged because of elimination of the town’s involvement with the chamber.
“You’re ultimately saving your guests money,” he said. “The room tax adds up.”
In fact, Johnson went so far as to say with the way things are set up now, all Arbor Vitae is doing with most of its room tax revenue is funneling money to the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Lots of money,” Reuland said and Gillespie said behind the town of Minocqua, Arbor Vitae was the next largest contributor when it comes to room tax.
“I think we’re paying around $65,000 a year,” Bauers said.
“Can we make our own chamber?” Roach asked.
Raise in room tax?
Bauers brought up another point mentioned in his discussion with Westfahl — the Minocqua chamber is looking at a room tax increase.
“I said ‘If you drop our name and you’re thinking we support a raise in room tax, not gonna happen,’” he said.
“I agree,” Roach said.
“We’ve got a lot of angry payers already,” Gillespie said, indicating they’re not happy paying the room tax at the current rate because they’re not seeing much in return from the chamber.
“The only thing I’m sure of is if Minocqua drops our name, I would be willing to drop Minocqua’s name,” Bauers said.
He ascertained from the reaction during the discussion — and eventually made a motion unanimously approved to reflect it — that “our board is in favor 100% of not dropping Arbor Vitae’s name from the current brand.”
“I asked her (Westfahl) what the idea was to change the brand,” he said. “‘Was it to give Minocqua more recognition?’ It was just something they thought was a good idea. Well, we think it’s a bad idea.”
Johnson went a bit further.
“I think they think they’re better than us,” he said.
Gillespie said in recent room tax commission meetings, it was expressed by Minocqua chamber personnel there was a change in direction for the chamber, that it wasn’t to be a traditional chamber of commerce but one geared more toward marketing.
“I don’t think what they do is a bad thing,” Roach said. “I think what they do is a great thing. It’s just we don’t see a benefit. It’s not how we’re structured.”
Bauers said he would talk to Lake Tomahawk town chairman George DeMet.
Saturday, DeMet told The Lakeland Times the town’s partnership with the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce ceased on Jan. 1, 2019.
“We have always had our own tourist information center which operates daily throughout the summer season,” he said in an email. “Whether or not this develops into an official chamber of commerce operation is yet undecided. A lot depends upon the interest of local businesses and finding someone who is willing to devote the necessary time to organize such a group.”
DeMet acknowledged there are also procedural aspects to forming an official chamber of commerce and the town’s compliance with requirements from the Internal Revenue Service.
A five minute draft
Westfahl couldn’t be reached for comment as of Friday, but Jim Hartwig, president of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, said he heard about the Arbor Vitae Town Board’s discussion and emphasized whatever is being considered, is in not much more than discussion phase.
In fact, knowing there would need to be meetings with the town boards of both Arbor Vitae and Woodruff at some point, he indicated surprise Bauers brought it to his town board this soon following the meeting he and Westfahl had with him.
“If it’s what I heard they discussed, there’s a hell of a misunderstanding somewhere along the line,” Hartwig said. “We’re doing two things here and I think he (Bauers) flipped the two of them.”
The first is a logo change because the current logo still includes Lake Tomahawk.
“At the end of this budget year, we do have to do that,” Hartwig said. “We want to change the logo and add ‘Visitor’s Bureau’ and ‘Convention Center’ with our name. The other side of what we do.”
The other thing the Minocqua chamber is doing, he said, is a marketing campaign.
“If we’re in Chicago at a trade show and put up our full name, you can’t read it,” Hartwig said. “There’s too much there. So we were looking at ... entertaining the idea, at least, of ‘Let’s Minocqua!’ as a marketing campaign.”
He said the new logo would eliminate Arbor Vitae and Woodruff was a subject brought up by Bauers, but also that same day when he and Westfahl met with Woodruff town chairman Mike Timmons.
“Everything we’ve got right now is like a five minute draft,” Hartwig acknowledged. “By no means, should it be taken as final. It’s just something we are at least discussing. It didn’t say ‘Arbor Vitae’ and Krystal and me agreed with him (Bauers) that’s an easy thing to add.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]