Waiving discussion, members of the City’s Evanston Development Committee recommended in favor of a $55,739 membership fee for Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, with representatives of local business districts also weighing on the group’s value.

Evanston is a founding member of the bureau, which is a state-certified Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Office of Tourism. 

Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CNSCVB) website

Along with Evanston opportunities, the bureau promotes tourism, meetings and leisure activities for a number of North Shore communities, including Wilmette, Glenview, Wheeling, Prospect Heights, Northbrook, Skokie, Glencoe and Northfield.

In a letter to the committee, Gina Speckman, the Executive Director of the organization, noted that the annual member fee request is 66% lower than the amount the city paid before the pandemic “and recognizes the lingering effects of the pandemic on the local tax collections of our member communities.”

She said that in addition to the organization’s yearly state, municipal and private sector funding, it also received a substantial recovery grant from Cook County that “will bring additional resources to the sales and marketing programs we enact on behalf of the City of Evanston and its businesses.”

Hotels showing signs of waking up

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, as well as the directors of the city’s Special Service Districts – downtown, Main/Dempster and Central Street – were among those voicing support for the group’s work.

Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website.

“The CVB staff creates and administers sales and marketing programs highlighting hotels, restaurants, attractions, and retail which in turns generates sales tax revenue for the City,” Zalmezak wrote. “The CVB staff works closely with the local hotels, restaurants, the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Evanston’s three Special Service Areas, and all of Evanston’s merchant districts to identify events the CVB can market regionally/nationally.”

He attached a chart to his memo showing hotel tax revenues for the city from 2019 to 2021. In May, hotel tax revenues hit $136,180, more than four times the 2020 total for that month but less than the $186,973 collected by the city in pre-pandemic 2019.

Overall, Zalmezak wrote, “it appears the hotel market in Evanston is slowly returning with receipts in 2022 increasing over peak pandemic timeframe, but still less than 2019 (albeit, improving).

“The CVB is the only organization that markets Evanston and major events happening here beyond our primary service area,” he added. “Their efforts bring activity to Evanston regionally, nationally, and internationally. It is important that we redouble our efforts to attract visitors to Evanston hotels.”

Expressing support for the bureau’s work were Annie Coakley, Executive Director of Downtown Evanston, which provides marketing and management services to the downtown Special Service District, as well as her counterparts, Katherine Gostick, from the Main-Dempster Mile, and Angela Shaffer, from the Central Street Evanston Special Service districts.

“We recommend their funding in our roles as economic development practitioners and leaders of the Special Service Area (SSA) districts that rely on this partnership, which helps us reach consumers outside of Evanston, as well as regional, national and international visitors,” the three directors wrote.

“Without the CNSCVB partnership and their large marketing budget, we would have limited outreach with our limited advertising dollars. Downtown Evanston, Main Dempster Mile and Central Street have taken advantage of the CNSCVB co-op advertising programs to purchase radio ads, ads on CTA trains, direct mail campaigns and digital media ads that have effectively promoted summer events and holiday shopping. In addition, the promotion of our events on their widely read social media platforms as well the inclusion of our hotels, restaurants, retailers, attractions, and events in their digital assets which would not go as far without their help.”

Last year, members of the newly elected City Council voted 5-3 in favor of the bureau’s funding request, with some members calling for more data backing up the value that the group’s efforts bring the city.

At the June 29 meeting, Economic Development Committee members didn’t discuss the issue and moved into a voice vote, unanimously supporting the membership fee request.

The proposal will next go to the full City Council, which has the final say on the matter.

Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CNSCVB) website.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.