Why Ypsilanti’s identity, independent of Ann Arbor, is important…. and why we should fight to keep our Convention and Visitors Bureau

It was made public today that members of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners are considering the possibility of forcing a merger between the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB) and its counterpart in Ann Arbor. This, as I understand it from my sources, is something that the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AAACVB) has been trying to see accomplished for over a decade, but it would seem that they may have finally gotten enough support at the County level to make it happen, and it has me wondering what the impact might be for Ypsilanti, which, in my opinion, has been doing an increasingly good job these past few years of promoting itself as a City with its own unique character, independent of Ann Arbor.

[The Ann Arbor News article can be found here.]

The idea behind this – the idea that we should brand ourselves consistently across the County as “the greater Ann Arbor region” – by the way, isn’t new. I can remember back, over a decade ago, when it was decided to replace our regional economic development group, the Washtenaw Development Council, with what we now call Ann Arbor SPARK. The brand that resonates with people outside the region, we were told, wasn’t Washtenaw County, but Ann Arbor, and, given that, we should let them take the lead. We’d all benefit, they said. And, it would seem, we bought into it, thinking that we’d have a better chance of attracting the interest of developers and the like. All we had to do was submit to the all-powerful Ann Arbor brand and become part of “the greater Ann Arbor region.” A dozen years or so into the experiment, I don’t know that we can call it a victory for Ypsilanti. While Ann Arbor continues to grow by leaps and bounds, all that we have, after a decade, is a new dollar store.

Along these same lines, we were told a few years ago that for the sake of efficiency, we should combine our Chambers of Commerce. We were assured at the time that the new entity would maintain a presence in downtown Ypsilanti, and they did… for a little while. Eventually, that office closed. Now, from what I hear, we have one Chamber employee, who can, “every once in a while,” be found at a desk inside SPARK East.

[note: According to Angela Barbash, the founder of Ypsilanti’s Reconsider, the Chamber presence in Ypsilanti is virtually nonexistent these days. “I haven’t seen a Chamber representative at SPARK East for at least nine months,” she told me today. “They don’t even make an appearance at the monthly ‘start your own business’ class that’s held there.” She went on to say, “I should also note that the Chamber was unresponsive to three outreach requests we made last fall when we were launching venture LOCAL. We were definitely disappointed.”]

So, you’ll have to excuse me if I’m a bit skeptical when told that Ypsilanti will come away from a merger better than we went into it. Ceding our uniqueness, I think, to become just another part of “the greater Ann Arbor region,” would be a huge mistake.

With all of that said, however, I do acknowledge that those on the other side of the debate have legitimate points. Following, for instance, are the thoughts of former Ypsilanti City Planner Richard Murphy, who notes, for example, that being a part of the AAATA gives us much better bus service than we could ever accomplish on our own.

I hear your concern about diminishing one channel for community brand identity, though the other side of that is, at what point are things too fragmented and parochial to meet any need beyond “the right name” effectively? Certainly I think the YDDA serves its districts better now than when it was two DDAs failing to effectively work together; the Chamber merger similarly may give Ypsi businesses access to more resources within the larger organization, and more exposure through it. We’re better off as part of AAATA than if we tried to establish our own Ytransit agency.

I think there are cases where it’s important to have a separate organization or institution, and this may be one of them–where the existential purpose of the institution is to promote a specific community brand. However, that’s by no means always the case, and I wanted to provide examples where the *function* of an organization, and the *benefit* it provides to Ypsi may well be improved by aggregating upwards. That’s the question I’d like to see considered here, and in any case: what do we actually gain or lose, and can we talk about that thing, rather than talking about the name per se.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention at this point that my wife has, on occasion, been asked to do freelance design work for the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. (She recently helped them with their 2015 Best of Ypsilanti Guide, a little bit of which can be seen below.) So I suppose, if you were looking to discredit my argument, you could say that I’m just weighing in on this because I have a vested interest. As the YACVB is a relatively small client of hers, though, I don’t think it holds much water, but I wanted to be upfront about it. I will say, however, that, through Linette’s involvement, I’ve come to know the staff at the YACVB to be motivated, thoughtful and competent, and I’d hate to think that any of them might lose their jobs in a merger. Furthermore, I happen to be aware of a current project they’ve got underway with a branding firm, looking at the way we position the City going forward, and I’d hate to think that this work of theirs to really get at what makes us different from the cities and towns around us, may be lost in a consolidation with Ann Arbor.

[note: The following pages look even better in real life. I had to trim the tops because the navigation controls kept getting in the way.]

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 8.04.55 PM

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 8.05.47 PM

And, when I say that Ypsi’s identity would be lost, by the way, I’m not just being paranoid. Sean Duval, the board chair of the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Ann Arbor News, “It’s absolutely our vision to see one countywide marketing agency, one voice for the Ann Arbor area.”

How can two completely distinct cities speak with a single voice? And why is it that they should have to? Are people really out there, staring at their computer screens, completely bewildered by the fact that two cities less than ten miles apart define themselves differently? Are there people really out there saying, “Wow, I really wanted to go to Ann Arbor for vacation, but I see that there’s a different town a few miles away with a different name and a different idea as to how to promote themselves, and I’m so damned confused that I’m going to stay home”?

Apparently, in the opinion of Joseph Sefcovic, the president of the Washtenaw County Hotel and Motel Association, the answer is, “Yes.” In a letter sent to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners on January 22, Sefcovic wrote, “maintaining two CVBs creates an undeniable identity crises and confusion for our region.”

Have you ever met anyone… even one person… who is confused by the concept that Ann Arbor is one city, and Ypsilanti is another?

Before we go one step further, I’d like to ask Duval and Sefcovic to provide examples of this confusion, and evidence that it has cost Ann Arbor tourism dollars. If it’s as big of a problem as they suggest, I don’t imagine it will be too difficult of a task.

Of course, it’s also possible that this has absolutely nothing to do with confusion, and everything to do with money. There is, after all, a lot of money on the table. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Ann Arbor’s hotel owners wanted it all for themselves, to promote their message, and to try to pull more big events into their city, at the expense of Ypsilanti. But who would be so cynical as to suggest that?

Following, from today’s Ann Arbor News, are the financials.

…Every hotel bill in the county includes a 5 percent tax–raised from 2 percent in 2009–that is levied to fund the area’s convention and visitors bureaus. The county keeps 10 percent of the funds raised for administration costs, and then splits the remaining 90 percent between the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The AAACVB receives 75 percent of the available funding while the YACVB gets the remaining 25 percent. Revenue captured by the tax has risen significantly each of the past two years. The county collected $4.68 million in 2013 and unaudited figures show the tax generated $5.21 million in revenue in 2014.

Under the current revenue splitting contracts, which expire in 2015, the Ypsilanti area bureau received approximately $1.17 million from the taxes collected in 2014 and the Ann Arbor area bureau received about $3.52 million…

Agreeing to give Ypsilanti 25% of a smaller pie may have been more palatable. But, as the pie gets bigger, I have to think there are people in Ann Arbor who are thinking, “Just imagine what we could do with another $1.17 million.”

So, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted on March 4 to call together a task force to look at how the county distributes the monies brought in via the excise tax. They, as I understand it, can’t technically force a merger, but they have the power to shift where the money goes. So, in effect, if they wanted to, they could force a merger to happen, making the members of the Washtenaw County Hotel and Motel Association, and the AAAVCB, very happy… The only people, it would seem, who don’t want this to happen are those of us in Ypsilanti, and it’s not clear to me that we have much power to stop it. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that.

The task force will consist of four Washtenaw County Commissioners; Andy LaBarre (Ann Arbor), Ruth Ann Jamnick (Ypsilanti Township), Ronnie Peterson (Ypsilanti), and Alicia Ping (Saline). If you have an opinion on this, I’d suggest that you write to one or all of them. You’ll find their contact information here.

And here, lastly, are a few random thoughts.

1. The AAACVB gathers sponsors to hosts events (breakfasts, annual dinners, etc). The YACVB, however, actually sponsors events in Ypsilanti. Through their minigrant program, the YACVB sponsors major events, like Elvis Fest, First Fridays, Heritage Fest, etc. If our two organization merge, will the AAACVB contribute money toward these and other events, which are a major economic drivers in Ypsi?

2. The AAACVB charges membership dues. The YACVB, in contrast, provides free services such as photography, consulting, non-membership based listings.

3. The YACVB has a Community Tourism Action Program through which it awards one $10,000 grant to each of our surrounding communities (Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Manchester, Saline, and Ypsilanti Township) to support new and/or enhanced visitor-based programming. Ann Arbor, I believe, does not do this. Furthermore, the YACVB, over the past year, launched in-depth campaigns for major events in the surrounding areas (i.e. Milan’s Bluegrass Festival, Saline’s Craft Show, seasonal events at Wiard’s in the Township, etc.). These campaigns utilized promoted social media posts, custom illustrations by local artist Caleb Zweifler, Google ad-word campaigns, and microsites on visitypsinow.com, like this one for Dexter.

4. The YACVB has a better social media strategy. Not only does our Visitors and Convention Bureau have a blog, which Ann Arbor doesn’t, but, with one third the budget, they have almost as many social media followers. Ann Arbor has 15K followers, and Ypsi has over 12,500. Why? Because Ypsi has an identity and a large pool of people who care about that identity. And, as for the blog, they have awesome guest bloggers like our historian friend Matt Siegfried. Lastly, after 40 years in business, Ann Arbor has 8 videos on YouTube, whereas we have scores of them, like this one posted a few weeks ago…

Will Ann Arbor produce videos like this for our community? Will they care about the quirkiness of Ypsilanti? Or will we just be a footnote in materials produced about Ann Arbor?

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57 Comments

  1. Posted March 12, 2015 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    I was a fan of the merger of the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor Chamber because the new chamber would be led and staffed by people from the Ypsilanti chamber which is still very true today. I thought the merger would work in Ypsilanti’s favor because the Ypsi staff was supportive of it. However I couldn’t be more against the idea of combining the 2 visitors bureaus. It is clear the Ypsi staff is against it and it is very important that Ypsilanti remain unique and continues to maintain its own sense of self. We are only just getting started in Ypsi!

  2. Posted March 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of the Chamber’s Ypsilanti presence, Andy LaBarre offered the following explanation.

    “In short, the merged chambers didn’t have the capacity to staff both offices and had a 10 years lease in Ann Arbor. The merged chamber does a lot in Ypsilanti for events but doesn’t have the physical building presence we’d like to have.”

  3. Dan Blakeney
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see anything in a merger of the visitors bureaus that would benefit Ypsilanti. Our separate civic identity suits me fine and we don’t want to be in a position of needing A2’s permission or approval to attract visitors and business to Ypsilanti.

  4. EOS
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Another example of how collaboration with the City of Ypsilanti benefits Ypsilanti at the expense of the collaborator. One hotel and two motels in Ypsilanti and they get 25% of the county revenue gained from the tax on all hotel rooms. Ann Arbor has upwards of 25 hotels generating the tax revenue. If the two entities stay separate, they should each capture all the revenue generated from hotel taxes located only within their boundaries. Is the Mariott located in the Township?

  5. Amanda Edmonds
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m very opposed to the CVB merger and hope council will join me in standing up to the County Commissioners about what we feel is best for our community in such a critical time — as we are turning a key corner in attracting residents, visitors, and investment. Our YCVB has been one of our most positive assets on helping us do so!

  6. Cheryl Farmer
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    The short answer is yes, we would become a footnote if the CVB for Ypsilanti were to merge with that of Ann Arbor. I opposed this when it came up the last time, & I continue to oppose a merger.

  7. Conan Smith
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    As I have said elsewhere, taking about the merger is a whole lot of asking the wrong question. It makes it way too easy to get parochial and spend all our energy on proving that Ypsi is better than Ann Arbor or that A2 is the only brand that matters or any hundred other useless, but passionate and emotionally meaningful, debates. The real question here is something more like, if you had $5M to promote the communities in Washtenaw County and to draw tourist here, what should that accomplish and what are the best vehicles for achieving those goals.

    It’s easy to vilify the people across the border (looking in either direction), but it’s a waste of energy — and one that has resulted in a waste of resources, far beyond tourism dollars, for as long as I’ve been alive. Thankfully, for the last several years the County has been steadily moving to what I’d describe as “outcome-based” budgeting. We’re getting away from funding programs, projects and entities, and begining to fund the changes in our communities that make better quality of life. This has happened in human services (through Coordinated Funding), education (with Head Start), economic development (a la Act 88), and workforce development (via collaboration discussions with Jackson and others). The same pressure and philosophy is now being applied to tourism. Why now? Because the contracts with the CVBs expire this year and it is the right time to renegotiate.

    If I were an Ypsi booster (and I am) I’d be looking at this as a strategic opportunity (which I do, and so should you) to bring a more impactful and resourced approach to bringing business to Ypsi. Given the relative state of need, Ypsi arguably deserves the lion’s share of support, but maintaining our current contact structure isn’t going to move that needle one iota.

    People who care about Ypsi should be trying to articulate what the measures of success are for investing tourism dollars on behalf of the community. If success is measured by ownership, fine, but I’d argue that is the wrong metric in that it doesn’t really attend to community improvement. Define the changes you want to see for the community first and *then* define the structure that delivers them.

    You want more powerful marketing of Ypsi but worry about loss of control or focus? Merge with a guarantee of equal board seats. You think Ypsi events will lose funding they rely on? Write them into the next contract. You really want to ensure a downtown office, put that in the contract too. All of those details can be worked out, but if you spend all your energy worrying about things at that level, you’ll never get to the conversation about the transformational change Ypsi needs and can get by opening the door to a different investment model.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Is the task force really necessary, Conan? It sounds as though you’ve already made up your mind on this.

  9. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I think Mark hits the mark with the comment ” there are people in Ann Arbor who are thinking – Just imagine what we could do with another $1.17 million” (the amount the Ypsi C&VB has in their current budget). As Watergate’s Deep Throat said “Follow The Money.”

  10. Anonymous
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    With all due respect to Conan we know that this discussion isn’t happening because his constituents want to help Ypsilanti and increase efficiency. This discussion is happening because Ann Arbor’s hotel owners want that money to promote their businesses. To suggest otherwise offends our intelligence.

  11. Conan Smith
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Oh, I definitely have strong opinions. But the task force approach is designed to tamp down all our passions and get us focused on the facts and the outcomes we’re hoping to achieve. And the way it’s framed will impact the CVBs, but it’s not about them. The revenue from the accommodations tax can be use in many powerful ways by a variety of organizations and institutions. The task force is charged with looking at all of the options. Here’s the law describing how those funds can be used:

    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(k4n0fkeplg2f5cvyjafe4djv))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-141-867&highlight=accommodations%20AND%20tax

  12. Bee
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    heres the thing- this isn’t a who is better situation, Conan- this is a who represents Ypsi and the Ypsi “brand” and the voice of Ypsi, and who has cultivated that. The YACVB has, most specifically through the visit Ypsi campaigns. The amount of support the provide my business whether it’s holding meetings there, or having an office a few doors over lending themselves to being breakfast/lunch regulars in tandem with the surveys, publications, and grassroots engagement with ME is incredible. And it never feels forced and they’re really hitting their stride and getting better all time.

  13. Kim
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    The people in the local office actually know our community because they are here every day, living alongside us. They know our businesses because the shop here. They know our events because they help plan them. That cannot be replaced.

  14. Eel
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I agree that the first job of this special Task Force should be to to quantify the “confusion” caused by the existence of two bureaus. If they can’t back up that claim, this whole thing should be dropped immediately.

  15. Dan Blakeney
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I live in District 5 and our representative on the board of Commissioners is Ruth Ann Jamnick. I’ll write her today to tell her I don’t want to have the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau merged with the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. If she doesn’t contend any and all efforts by the board to defund the YACVB she’ll lose my vote. Here is a link to the Washtenaw County website where info on districts and commissioners can be found. http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/boc

  16. kjc
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    “But the task force approach is designed to tamp down all our passions and get us focused on the facts and the outcomes we’re hoping to achieve.”

    opinions, passions, experiences? who needs ’em. is bee’s message a “fact” based one or is she just passionate?

  17. Janette
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Great piece, thank you. Yes, most hotels are in A2 & that means all if Ypsi’s (and other communities in the county) are helping put heads in beds with their events/EMU. It is a team effort & the funds should continue to be allocated to reflect that. Visit Ypsi has been very supportive of my little start up in Depot Town & it would be a terrible shame to see them diminished. Ypsi businesses are already listed in the Greater Ann Arbor guide & I don’t honestly see Ypsi receiving more crumbs than the other outlying communities. We live in A2 & enjoy it, but I do believe this is nothing but a money grab. I expressed my opinion yesterday, but am concerned minds are already made up. I respect my commissioner, but sincerely hope the lobbyist(s) haven’t already cemented most of the votes. At the very least as Conan says, merchants & citizen activism may be able to shape the terms in a legally binding way. Assurances & handshakes mean nothing after a year or so in a merger as has been observed here & everywhere. Thanks again for the piece.

  18. Courtney
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    As a resident of Ann Arbor and someone that works in Depot Town, I am strongly opposed to this merger. Ann Arbor has enough going on. The only reason this push is being made is because it’s a money grab. Ypsi is going through a renaissance and Depot Town is on the cusp of making a huge comeback with the Freighthouse re-opening for events and visitors, and Thompson Block and it’s slated offerings…. A takeover of the Ypsi CVB will end up being nothing but a new money pot to fund Ann Arbor pet projects.

  19. EOS
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    4.7 million dollars on advertising for tourists? Maybe the task force can think of a better use for these funds. Why don’t we give it to Habitat for Humanity. Cleaning up the blight will certainly draw more visitors than a multipage color brochure.

  20. Martha Schmitt
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this article, Mark. As the creator of the above “Ypsi Love” video, and a recent employee of the CVB, I wanted to share a bit about my experience with the bureau.

    Visit Ypsi (along with other notable local businesses) made the Ypsi 24 Hour Film Shootout possible for another year in 2014. As a recent EMU graduate with a degree in Electronic Film and Video, it was an easy decision to join the competition. I was immediately intimidated by the scores of talented people I was up against. People were really getting into this competition!

    People were all over town the day of the Shootout. Filming in Depot Town, Downtown, Campus Town and the Township as well. The streets were bustling with amateur filmmakers. The deadline came and went quickly, and the smiling faces of Ypsi volunteers wished us luck.

    I did not win the Shootout. Didn’t even come close! Sure I was upset, but I had gone out and done something with my hard earned degree. Plus I had a bag full of Visit Ypsi goodies to cherish, like the brilliant luggage tag that (as always) encourage out of town onlookers to “Visit Ypsi Now”.

    Fast forward to a month after the Shootout. My video had almost 1000 views! That seemed like a big deal to me. However, the biggest surprise came about when I was contacted by an enthusiastic CVB employee who said she had seen my movie. They were emailing to ask if I would be interested in doing promotional videos for Visit Ypsi once or twice a month to get the word out about our wonderful city. I was now a 22-year-old college graduate with a job in her field.

    I know that I am just one individual, but the point is that jobs are on the line here. Not just at the bureau, but at the small businesses that the YACVB helps to support.

    The Ypsi 24 Hour Film Shootout is just one of many events that our CVB helps put on every year. It helped me follow a dream, and reap an even bigger reward. It got me involved in my community and into my local businesses, even meeting the owners and asking if I could film there.

    Visit Ypsi and I have more great videos in store for the city. If the merge is successful, I’m not sure what it will mean for the CVB’s employees, but I can guess that the effort given by Visit Ypsi will never be matched.

  21. Cheryl Weber
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    To be fair we have a lot more going on in Ypsilanti than the Family Dollar variety store. Our Ypsilanti Visitors and Convention Bureau has done a great deal to showcase our best profile. The AAVCB has not done similar promotion and investment. Even some of our own residents hold on to an uninformed negative view of anything Ypsilanti. Thankfully we have a growing core of people with vision and optimism. Our way forward is not easy. We are renewing our character. In my opinion Ann Arbor is losing some of its charm and attractive features. The big U will always attract new people so I see them resting on their laurels. I do not think we need to follow them. We are worthy of our own destiny. Lets build a Hotels downtown!

  22. Cheryl Weber
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    BTW, Historically, Ypsilanti was the original happening place. We do not need to be Ann Arbor but, we also do not deserve criticism for wanting to be Ann Arbor every time someone ventures to make progress here.

  23. BrianR
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    The YVCB web site could use some work.

    Motorsport Studio is still on their site despite having closed 7 months ago. Same goes for Korey’s Krunchy Krispy Chicken and Taqueria La Loma.

    Sweet Perfection Tattoo was open for a few months, but is still listed. Jeff Faust’s Liquid Swordz isn’t even listed despite being on Washington Street for nearly 10 years now (and Perrin before that). Depot Town Tattoo isn’t listed either.

    Deja Vu has been omitted despite being a big tourist attraction when UA comest to town.

    Woodruff’s Bar is still listed. Crossroad’s Bar & Grill isn’t.

    Etc, etc, etc.

  24. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    If you are referring to the visitypsinow website, yes I agree, it is a mess.

  25. bee roll
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there’s much to refute re: facts v passion in what I stated above. I didn’t draw on numbers, just my experiences with them directly. I imagine my friends and a portion of my regular clientele not having $ to spend in the short term *could* outweigh the overall economic advancements a “unified” CVB might present in the longer term. I can *imagine* that. OR I can advocate for a brand that, however imperfect, is miles ahead [as based on the facts that Mark mentions above regarding social media engagement] of what the AA CVB puts out proportionately.

  26. Dan Blakeney
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Ms Jamnick, District 5 Commissioner, is on the Task Force. So I have written the (doubly) right person.

  27. Jcp2
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I think that Ypsi desire to continue to maintain a separate visitor board makes sense for Ypsilanti, but that they should be prepared for a decrease in funding from hotel tax revenue, as the hoteliers may push for proportional geographic distribution of those revenues.

  28. PM
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree Mark. If a merger is forced, we’ll have to create our own bootstraps tourism bureau anyway. Having endured the frankly patronizing attitude toward Ypsi exhibited by all too many representatives of Ann Arbor-based organizations, I have little or no trust that a joint tourism bureau could even understand our city, let alone promote it.

  29. Posted March 13, 2015 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I love how Conan comes in and says, “Hey, guys — BoC has appointed a task force that is 75% non-A2 folks to examine the use of our hotel excise tax revenue. What do you think you’d like to see out of this?” and the reaction is, “How dare you ask such a question, Ann Arborite — clearly you’ve already decided, simply by merit of your address, to take our money and our name for yourself!”

    As I said in the facebook comments that Mark quotes, this is probably one of the (few) instances where the name alone of the institution is significant to its functioning, above and beyond its governance or oversight or programs, etc.

    But “The County is funding an organization that has the right name” still isn’t the same thing as “The County’s funding is doing the very best job it could for us”, and we can still talk about how it might be improved. And, to be honest, I personally have little enough recent direct experience with either CVB to critique their work one way or the other — I’d hope folks with that experience can chime in.

    Changing gears a little bit, letting the question be framed by where the tax dollars are raised seems off to me. The County should be using its tourism economic development dollars to promote the entire county, from the Yankee Air Museum to the Waterloo State Rec Area to the Manchester Chicken Broil. The fact that these dollars come from hotel stays at particular GPS points is incidental to the question of their best use. (If we really wanted to target the spending to where the hotels are, it would all be spent on Briarwood, the Washtenaw Ave US-23 exit, and Plymouth/Green Road, rather than anything happening in downtown A2–so obviously, we need to broaden beyond “what addresses do the tax $$ come from?”)

    A better starting point for divvying funding to benefit the entire county might be where the people are. (Since hopefully we value people more than hotel rooms.)

    In that case, “Ypsilanti” (as defined by the 48197 and 48198) consists of 100,779 people, as of the 2010 Census, or 28.9% of the County’s total population. So maybe Ypsi CVB’s current 25% funding slice is about right.

    “Ann Arbor’s” population (48103, 4, 5, 8, 9), by contrast, is 160,982. So 46.2% of the County’s population.

    The remaining 24.9% of the County’s population is from communities called Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester, Milan, Whitmore Lake, and Willis (plus some spillover from other zip codes around the edges). From a quick google of “visit (place) michigan”, it looks like Chelsea, Manchester, and Saline have their own “branded” tourism efforts. So maybe those communities should be asking why they’re not getting a slice of the County’s tourism dollars to support their efforts?

    Searches on Milan, Dexter, and Whitmore Lake don’t come up with anything similar…but do have hits on VisitYpsiNow.com, which has an entire section, linked from the header on every page, about “Our Neighbors”. By contrast, the only thing I can find on VisitAnnArbor.org that’s outside the freeway ring is a mention of Jiffy Mix tours.

    So it seems like the starting point for the conversation might be for the A2 CVB to start justifying why they should keep the extra 25% that should be going to out-county efforts, now that they’ve opened that Pandora’s Box on themselves.

  30. Mr. X
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    To Brian Robb’s point, I agree that the YACVB isn’t perfect. I don’t always agree with what the do, or how the do it. (See the Color Run.) But they’re here, in our town, and they have a sense of what we’re about, and there’s value in that. If I don’t like something, I can tell them. I imagine, at this very minute, for instance, they’re fixing the website to address Brian’s concerns. Accountability and proximity are important and we cannot afford to give them up.

  31. Mr. X
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a thought. Might it be possible that the intention has never been to merge Ann Arbor and Ypsi? Might this just be the first salvo in a fight over renegotiating the 75/25 split? It makes sense. The County comes at us hard, saying that they want to merge, and eventually they’ll look like goo guys when they relent and let us keep the bureau with less than half the funding. As that’s a possibility, we might need to shift the fight from “we need an office of our own” to “we need to maintain funding.”

  32. aonyn
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Remember, Conan’s remarks are from the guy who wants all to be considered Detroit.

  33. Eli Morrisey
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to branding a specific community for business and tourism purposes, I’m not too sure regionalization is the best recipe. What the Ypsilanti Visitors Bureau is doing works really well. Great talent over there! This is why a vast majority of Ypsilanti business owners and residents I’m talking to are not for this merger……including myself.

  34. Conan Smith
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Bee, I think your points, and several others’, are spot on and very helpful. Ypsi does have a distinctive and positive brand that we do not want to dilute. And there is significant value in having the presence of and access to locally knowledgeable professionals. These are values that we should hold in the conversation about how best to deliver on their promise.

    One of the challenges we need to address for the county, however, is to whom we are marketing which brands. Ann Arbor is our national brand, competing on par with Detroit when it comes to recognition and value (yes, thanks much to the U). The audience for Ypsi’s brand is probably different, and we need to understand who ‘we’re trying to attract and why to make that brand do the work that it’s capable of. That will guide the kinds of marketing investments that are most meaningful in terms of attracting people and business to the community.

    That level of strategy requires greater integration or collaboration among the organizations and institutions responsible for promoting our communities. We need shared goals, clear metrics and a well-designed implementation plan — without overlap and redundancies, administrative or otherwise — to be confident our dollars are having the biggest impact possible.

    Determining the organizational structure(s) for delivering these services should come after we all decide what winning looks like. I worry that we’re putting the cart before the horse by focusing on “merger”.

  35. Paige
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I think it sums things up nicely.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WITlM2pY_a4

  36. XXX
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Maybe fix the Chamber first and prove to us that you’re negotiating in good faith, Ann Arbor. And then maybe we’ll believe you when you tell us that consolidation will work to our benefit.

  37. lahabaha
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    A comment for Mr. Smith – but A2 is suggesting THEY be the leaders on these consolidated efforts, and the people of Ypsi are simply saying that we do not feel they are qualified to do so. If they are so qualified, where are all of their fans rushing to their defense? I agree our county (as a whole) should be promoted more, but it looks like that’s a strength Visit Ypsi has over A2.

  38. KKT
    Posted March 13, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t we propose taking 100% of the money and branding Washtenaw County as The Greater Ypsilanti Region?

  39. RT
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Mr. Smith says, “One of the challenges we need to address for the county, however, is to whom we are marketing which brands. Ann Arbor is our national brand, competing on par with Detroit when it comes to recognition and value (yes, thanks much to the U). The audience for Ypsi’s brand is probably different, and we need to understand who ‘we’re trying to attract and why to make that brand do the work that it’s capable of. ”

    Mmmmm-hmmmm. So let me get this straight. Entities from Ann Arbor say that Ann Arbor is “our” national brand. Really? To whom does this “our” refer? And why should the AAACVB and a group of hoteliers from Ann Arbor get to push a merger of the two CVBs? Historically mergers of Ann Arbor and Ypsi groups have only benefited Ann Arbor. Why should Ann Arbor get to define who Ypsi is trying to attract, and why? I think that Ypsilanti should be the one to define who Ypsi is trying to attract, and why.

    Why is it so hard to understand that there’s more to Washtenaw County than Ann Arbor?

  40. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Mr. Smith, even if we set aside the (somewhat) anecdotal evidence that past Ypsi/Arbor mergers like the Chamber and Board of Realtors, we are left that the very real evidence that YCVB is doing a far superior job of marketing Washtenaw County as a whole. Maybe the real question your commission should be asking is how is YVCB outperforming AAAVCB in regional marketing with 25% of the total budget? Maybe there should be a merger, but when you ask who would run a more regional focused venture, its pretty obvious which management team and which office should take the lead.

    A little less anecdotal evidence: any time I visited AAVCB as the representative of regional events taking place in Ypsi, the staff at the office barely gave me the time of day to leave information. YVCB always bent over backwards to help, and that held true for multiple events over several years.

  41. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Um, oops. That should be evidence from past mergers seems to show things don’t work out for Ypsi. Never post before coffee. But seriously, I think you get the point. If you’re going to cry regionalization, then its pretty obvious AAAVCB spends most of its dimes on Ann Arbor, not the Area and YVCB picks up their slack.

  42. idea man
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I like the idea of being proactive, welcoming the task force, and lobbying to get more than 25% of the pie in order to better represent all of the parts of the county that aren’t Ann Arbor. If they want to open this debate up, let’s start the negotiations at 50/50.

  43. Conan Smith
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Andrew, it’s my hope that the County board will draw a bright line between the merger question and the expenditure of tax dollars. The former is not or purview, the latter is. Certainly they influence each other but for the board to use funding as a cudgel to force a structure change would be wrong. As a vehicle to convene the conversation? Sure. But our first focus is not on which CVB should get funded but on what we want to achieve with the money.

    I am, however, a bit taken aback at your assertion that the Ypsi CVB outperforms Ann Arbor in marketing. I receive the marketing updates from both regularly, and see strong evidence to the contrary. I suspect we’re using different metrics to evaluate their marketing effectiveness, and this is an important part of the discussion moving forward. The AAACVB has a greater impact on external audiences. They have the capacity and strategy to speak to people who know our national brand but are unfamiliar with places like Ypsi, Saline or Chelsea. They are definitely succeeding at familiarizing newcomers with the uniqueness of our county. The YCVB has a distinctly different flavor and approach, which I think builds a strong sense of pride in place among an internal audience. To your point, they’ve built a reputation for supporting and promoting local events, which gives them cache with activists and leaders throughout the county. Both of these strategies are awesome for our community, and necessary if we’re going to win the attraction game.

  44. Ted
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    “I am, however, a bit taken aback at your assertion that the Ypsi CVB outperforms Ann Arbor in marketing. I receive the marketing updates from both regularly, and see strong evidence to the contrary. I suspect we’re using different metrics to evaluate their marketing effectiveness.”

    Which metrics are you using to evaluate effectiveness, Conan?

  45. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I think if we’re honest, we can agree that most of our tourist draw in Washtenaw County is regional, meaning they are coming from within 200 miles or so. And YVCB kills it in that market. Now, that’s not to say that a national presence isn’t important, but personally, I’d focus those resources 60 regional/ 40 national, in part because Michigan has a robust national campaign and is obviously equipped to do that job better than a regional VCB.

    The other half of my point is that the “Area” gets lost in all the talk of “Ann Arbor” in the AAAVCB already. Please name one regional event that AAAVCB has marketed that didn’t take place in Ann Arbor. YVCB on the other hand, has promoted and sponsored events in every single community in Washtenaw.

    If your metric is on a national scale, you’re going to get beat by Pure Michigan at every turn. Should we turn our funds over to them in the name of efficiency then? No, VCBs need to have a heavy focus on the region (within 200 miles) because that is the bread and butter of small town tourism, and like it or not, that’s what you’ve got outside the Ann Arbor bubble.

  46. Andrew Clock
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    One other thought: Not only has YVCB done a better job of regional marketing for events across Washtenaw County, they have made huge strides in reversing decades of negative impressions about Eastern Washtenaw. You will never convince me that an Ann Arbor based and lead combined CVB will be as effective in helping to reverse the negative stereotypes of the Ypsilanti area. Helping to eliminate that stigma and make Eastern Washtenaw more attractive to visitors and residents is certainly of value to Washtenaw County as a whole.

  47. Karen St John
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Either Ypsilanti gets equal billing…or the name becomes Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ypsilanti residents will not play as Ann Arborites for the coffers of its neighbour to the West.

    When you come to Ypsilanti, you will get Ypsi’s quirky but warm hospitality.

  48. Sterling Meeuwen
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I am moving home to Ypsilanti this week and wonder what an individual can do to help Ypsilanti stay independent?

  49. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Who is the proper target audience for the promotional/ informational material produced by these seperate bureaus? Do the two separate bureaus have different target audiences? Should the seperate bureaus have separate target audiences? Why?

  50. Dave Heikkinen
    Posted March 14, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    The feedback to the Commissioners is simple, NO, will will not accept this merger.

  51. maryd
    Posted March 16, 2015 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Ypsilanti need to retain our org. to promote Ypsi. Let your reps know your stance. If the website is outdated, fix it!

  52. site admin
    Posted March 16, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    The task force will be meeting on Thursday at 8am:

    “A meeting of the Convention and Visitors Bureau Task Force, an exploratory subcommittee of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working to explore the efficacy, utilization, and allocation of the accommodation tax revenue.”

    https://secure.ewashtenaw.org/eventcal/ViewEvent.do?eventId=9642&year=2015&month=3&day=19

  53. Posted March 16, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The Ypsi Food Coop has written to Ruth Ann Jamnick opposing this merger.

  54. Marcy
    Posted March 16, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I see a lot of the YCVB efforts go into marketing not just to the region but to to Ann Arbor specifically. I have coordinated an art show in Ypsi for the last five years and that entire time the vast majority of our website traffic has come from Ann Arbor. For that reason we have targeted a lot of our marketing to Ann Arbor. If we are all lumped together bringing Ann Arborites over here to take part in all of the rad things we have going on will be more difficult.

  55. Pamela
    Posted March 18, 2015 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that it is a conflict of interest for Commisioner LaBarre to be on this task force. Doesn’t he work for the A2-Y Chamber? Isn’t the Marriott hotel manager and Sean Duval on that board? Doesn’t he report to them ultimately?

  56. Posted April 9, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Debbie Locke-Daniel, the head of the YACVB, will be my guest on this weekend’s Saturday Six Pack.

  57. Posted June 25, 2015 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    From someone with more knowledge of the situation than me:

    UPDATE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF VISIT YPSI:
    The final vote is near (we hope so), and we need your support.
    We know it’s short notice, but July 1st will be one of (if not THE) last chances to show your support for the Ypsilanti Area CVB. We have asked the Commissioners if the final vote on the future of the Ypsi Area CVB will be on the agenda, and most likely, we will not know until the last minute. We can’t wait any longer to spring into action, and ask you to come on board to show your support.

    SO HERE ARE THE DETAILS:
    Voice your objection to the merger of Ypsilanti’s CVB and Ann Arbor’s CVB.
    County Board of Commissioners Meeting on July 1st at 6:30pm
    220 N. Main Street, Downtown Ann Arbor

    We need bodies at the next Commissioner meeting. Even if the final vote doesn’t occur on July 1st, your presence will still speak volumes for when the final decision is made. There will be pre-arranged speakers, and time for other community members to speak. Wear your ‪#‎visitypsilove‬ t-shirts if you have them! AND SAVE YOUR CVB!

16 Trackbacks

  1. […] the wake of last week’s post about County plans to shift funds away from the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and into the…, a lot of interesting things have been showing up in my in-box, like this scan of a May 10, 1992 […]

  2. […] According to Kayj, we’ll also be handing out some pro-Ypsi buttons that came into being after the County suggested that we close our Ypsi Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and allow Ann Arbor&…. The buttons, from what I’m told, will say: “Ypsilanti, not East Ann […]

  3. […] citizen who wanted to say things that she couldn’t as the head of First Fridays, about the battle shaping up between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti over the budget of our Ypsilanti Area Conventi…, which some think could be put to better use in Ann Arbor. On a happier note, it would appear that […]

  4. […] citizen who wanted to say things that she couldn’t as the head of First Fridays, about the battle shaping up between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti over the budget of our Ypsilanti Area Conventi…, which some think could be put to better use in Ann Arbor. On a happier note, it would appear that […]

  5. […] citizen who wanted to say things that she couldn’t as the head of First Fridays, about the battle shaping up between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti over the budget of our Ypsilanti Area Conventi…, which some think could be put to better use in Ann Arbor. On a happier note, it would appear that […]

  6. […] you read this site, you know there’s a movement afoot to defund the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB) and hand the task of marketing Ypsi…. Well, this Saturday, on The Saturday Six Pack, we’ll be joined by Debbie Locke-Daniel, the […]

  7. […] the Saturday Six Pack was an odd one. It started normal enough, with an in-depth discussion about the plot hatched in Ann Arbor to defund Ypsi’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, but then it kind of began a steady descent into madness, until, by the end of the show, we were […]

  8. […] the Saturday Six Pack was an odd one. It started normal enough, with an in-depth discussion about the plot hatched in Ann Arbor to defund Ypsi’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, but then it kind of began a steady descent into madness, until, by the end of the show, we were […]

  9. […] the Saturday Six Pack was an odd one. It started normal enough, with an in-depth discussion about the plot hatched in Ann Arbor to defund Ypsi’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, but then it kind of began a steady descent into madness, until, by the end of the show, we were […]

  10. […] Saturday morning… If the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB) were to be shut down, and all of their funds were to be handed over to the folks at the Ann Arbor Area Convention and […]

  11. […] like to read the full text of the original post, and the several dozen comments which followed it, just click here. Also, if you want to go even deeper on the subject, I’d suggest listening to episode 12 of […]

  12. By Ypsi Real (let’s keep it that way) on September 10, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    […] wrong way on Washtenaw after getting off the highway. As we’ve discussed here before, though, I’m skeptical. I’ve been around long enough to know how these things typically work […]

  13. […] to use by the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AAACVB). As readers of this site know, I think it’s a terrible idea, and I’ve taken every opportunity available to share that opinion. On this past […]

  14. […] [For the background on this merger, and why, in the opinion of may, it’s so bad for Ypsilanti, just click here.] […]

  15. […] Why we should fight to keep our identity distinct from Ann Arbor, and our own CVB […]

  16. […] Why we should fight to keep our identity distinct from Ann Arbor, and our own CVB […]

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