Leaders with the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and BN Advantage are downplaying the impact of an expected $200,000 funding cut from the City of Bloomington.
The city hopes to use the savings to create its own in-house economic development department. The Bloomington City Council will consider approving the new department at its March 11 meeting. The city has one economic development coordinator already on staff.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will be able to absorb its funding cut (from $475,000 to $350,000) for at least a year without any impact on its operations or its five full-time and two part-time staff, said CVB President and CEO Crystal Howard. The CVB will draw down on its reserves, which are currently in excess of the six-month operating budget target of $329,000, she said. Much of that excess in reserves came from additional funding from the state via its hotel tax collections, she said.
“We’re not going to be able to do this for years, because we have a lot of obligations,” Howard said. “We’ll have to revisit this next year with the city and the town.”
The City of Bloomington and Town of Normal fund the CVB through a portion of the 6 percent hotel and motel tax that’s collected, she said.
This proposed $125,000 cut from Bloomington comes on the heels of a separate funding cut from the Town of Normal. The town cut its CVB funding from $218,500 in 2018 to $109,250 this year.
Howard said the CVB has been a good steward of the funding it’s received.
“In the past year our office was able to return $10.60 for every $1 we received from the city and town. This was based on the visitors our office booked with sports, convention and tour groups,” she said. “We hosted 207,194 visitors and booked 40,020 with groups which is the most trackable.”
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said Monday that the reduced funding doesn’t mean the city is abandoning the CVB and BN Advantage. He said both organizations were involved in discussions leading up to the announcement.
“If I were less than satisfied, I’d have to pull out a mirror and stare into it, because I’m one of my own appointees to the CVB board,” Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, a CVB board member, said Tuesday on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “The CVB has done an outstanding job. But we have budgets. And budgets need to reflect priorities.”
Bloomington is also considering a $75,000 funding cut for BN Advantage, a countywide initiative focused on community branding, talent and workforce, entrepreneurship, and other priorities. Its six leading partners include the CVB and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.
It’s unclear what impact a $75,000 cut would have on BN Advantage. In response to several questions from GLT about the proposed cut, BN Advantage Leadership Council Chair Colleen Kannaday responded with a statement via email. She was unavailable for an interview Tuesday because she was traveling.
“The most important thing is that all parties are aligned around a common strategy to move Bloomington Normal forward in terms of economic development, growth and diversification,” said Kannaday, also president of Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital. “The focus of BN Advantage is not on the funding, but on a shared vision where the leadership of our community is collaboratively working together.”
The Town of Normal does not currently fund BN Advantage directly, said Finance Director Andrew Huhn. The town’s last payment to BN Advantage ($67,000) was in 2018, he said.
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