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Task force highlights city-chamber divide

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The city of Wilsonville owns the former visitor and information center at Town Center Park. The Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce vacated the building in January after years of helping the city promote tourism. Now, the two are at odds over how to do the same thing going forward. The themes being considered in the draft Wilsonville Tourism Development Strategy are not new to task force members.

A Visitor Destination Action Plan developed about a year ago by the city, Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Clackamas County Tourism Development Council highlighted similar markets and attractions. And in February the chamber presented the city with a letter urging that it support a tourism strategy that includes horse shows, visitor kiosks, promoting the World of Speed motor sports museum and conducting a viability study for a proposed all-weather equestrian and event facility.

Coloring the entire process, however, is the chamber’s departure from the city-owned visitor information center at Town Center Park. That episode, which started in 2012 amid accusations the chamber was not properly accounting for room tax revenue it received from the city to run the visitor center, ended with the chamber pulling up stakes and leaving the building empty.

Despite ongoing claims by each organization that they wish to work with the other going forward, all of this has led to tension over the proper role of each organization in any future tourism promotion efforts.

The city has the resources to do the job, but the chamber boasts the expertise of its member businesses that are involved daily with marketing Wilsonville to residents and visitors alike.

Now, the city’s tourism strategy task force is mired in the difficult work of overcoming those differences and creating a workable strategy focused on Wilsonville’s strengths.

As the last meeting made clear, however, how this takes place is still up in the air.

“We have to identify what makes Wilsonville unique,” said David Stead, manager of the Langdon Farms Golf Club. “That is the brand strategy, and I guess I’m wondering why we’re not talking about that.”

Consultant Bill Baker and City Manager Bryan Cosgrove responded that developing a brand for Wilsonville is a step beyond Total Destination Marketing’s scope of work — the firm was hired only to develop a tourism strategy.

“You can go holistically and brand the whole community,” Baker said. “But I would think in Wilsonville you’d be looking for something that would resonate across all the markets. Tourism is a gateway to a community and we really won’t move to relocate our families unless we’ve visited and know it has what we’re looking for. It’s different.”

“I don’t get why we’re not having that conversation,” Stead responded.

“When we move toward branding,” answered Cosgrove, “that will be a discussion distinct and separate from what we’re having tonight; it’s not this document and it’s not what they were charged to do.”

Jennifer Johnson, founder of Oregon Horse Country, a chamber-sponsored initiative that has proved very successful in promoting equestrian events and businesses in and around Wilsonville, also weighed in on the matter. Having left the chamber over a year ago, Johnson said, she was a bit disappointed to see that very little progress has been made toward marketing Wilsonville as a destination.

“I don’t want to offend anyone,” she said, “I just feel like ‘Wow, not much has happened since I left.’”

While working with the chamber, Johnson also headed up a wide variety of efforts aimed at marketing Wilsonville to different crowds. Ultimately, she said, that proved difficult.

“We looked constantly at what Wilsonville had to offer, and unfortunately there isn’t anything specific that gives us that one thing, that makes us Bend or wine country or makes us the coast,” she said. “There is a lot that we have to offer, but the problem is ... it was impossible to get any focus.”




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