Oak Park Visitor Center to close at year's end

Visit Oak Park redirects funds to digital marketing

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It's a brave new world for tourism marketing, and the days of frequenting visitor centers to learn more about an area are on the wane. It's all about online tour guides and apps now, according to Visit Oak Park's new president and chief executive officer, Eric Wagner.

That's why Wagner, who was brought on at Visit Oak Park in June, is closing the Oak Park Visitor Center, 1010 Lake St., at the end of the year and plans to redirect the center's $150,000 annual subsidy toward digital marketing.

"I came in and looked at the budget and realized we just need to reallocate those dollars into marketing and advertising," said Wagner, who previously served as assistant deputy director at the Illinois Office of Tourism.

Tourism is changing, he said, and digital marketing will reach more people, encouraging them to visit Oak Park and other communities in the western suburbs.

Oak Park is one of 18 communities marketed under the Visit Oak Park tourism organization, but the village is the only one to contribute dollars to the effort. That's why the village gets naming rights for the organization.

The village contributes $212,000 from the hotel/motel tax and $37,500 from the general revenue fund to the marketing effort, and roughly $485,000 comes from the state of Illinois, Wagner said.

For every dollar contributed by the village, the state adds about two dollars, Wagner said.

Roughly $150,000 of that has gone toward running the visitors center and funding visitors services, he said. Rather than running the center, that $150,000 will be used on a digital marketing campaign, which aims to bring more people to the village and the western suburbs, Wagner told Wednesday Journal.

Visit Oak Park is working with the travel marketing firm TimeZoneOne to create an updated website with itineraries, photography and video "that inspire people to come here and stay longer," he said.

The bureau is also working with Meredith Corporation — publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Travel + Leisure, Family Circle, and a number of other travel-related publications — to create an "inspiration guide" for visitors. That guide will be distributed to Midwest Living's 350,000 readers in six states.

That guide is expected to go out in May or June of 2019, Wagner said.

The third leg of the marketing stool goes toward digital marketing and advertising, he said.

The Visitor Center will be open through the end of the year, but no date has been set for its closure. The shop, which features print guides to the area and work by local artisans, is currently selling all its inventory for 15 percent off.

Wagner is also looking at new opportunities for center volunteers and working to find new venues for the work by local artists featured in the store.

"At the end of the day, it's a cost-benefit thing," he said.


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Chris King  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 7:13 PM

Well at least none of that $150k will have to go to logo design, we've got that covered https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Oak-Park-Takes-Hard-Look-at-New-Logo-70476827.html

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 7:11 PM

I agree with Mike and Tom. The Housing Center is a "sacred cow" that needs to be put out to pasture - permanently.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 6:13 PM

Agree with Mike Hanline on this one. At least tourists used the visitors center once in awhile, meanwhile we fund the obsolete Housing Center because local politicians are too weak to admit its time has run its course.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 3:54 PM

Keep in mind the gift from the Village Government to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home Foundation. About 2 years ago FLW needed, if memory serves me correct, $23,000 to remove an unsightly utility pole from the front of the Home. Keep in mind FLW made no effort to increase the entry fee by a dollar and pay for the process themselves within 18 months.Instead, they went to the Village Government who wrote them a check to have the pole removed. The question is how many of us have the clout/pull/inside track to gain access to Village Government to obtain funds for their non-profit ventures?

Mike Hanline  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 2:23 PM

Eliminate the obsolete Oak Park Regional Housing Center and its annual $575K taxpayer-funded "investment," and keep the Visitor Center open. You're welcome.

David Stewart  

Posted: October 25th, 2018 5:24 AM

The answer is not either digital OR the shop, but both. A smaller shop can be a starting point for the visitors attracted by the digital marketing campaign. Drop the printed piece that won't even come out until mid-year and is attached to a magazine, a format that's dying as we speak.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 5:39 PM

I agree Amanda. Another idiotic "Mr. Fixit." And as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Mr. Wagner, in six months or a year or so, will move on for "other challenges and opportunities." But the disaster he created in his wake, will not move on. We will be stuck with it. What an absolutely asanine move.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 8:09 AM

This is the type of flawed logic that has enabled Oak Park to get into the poor situation we are in. Cut something that is value added (create goodwill for brand etc) but all of the waste etc at 97, village and lack of growth in scores/gap goes unaddressed? Given rising rates (not at 5%), softening economy and bad press from ATM, this is not a smart move - OP needs all of the positive good will it can get.

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak park  

Posted: October 24th, 2018 6:12 AM

I agree with all the comments. Once again, we allow an outsider to fix an Oak Park staple that's not broken. Thanks Mayor.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 11:31 PM

Whenever I hear cost/benefit, I fear other, less easily measurable, benefits are lost in the calculation.

Jim Major  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 9:30 PM

This is an unwise move . Human interaction and a welcoming smile is worth a lot more than $150,000 . This isn't a business it's a village. Cut throat cold maneuver.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 7:15 PM

"Roughly $150,000 of that has gone toward running the visitors center and funding visitors services" Is that a year,and what visitors services will be cut.

Bob Burke from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 6:43 PM

Unfortunately, visitors from countries outside the US will have no place to get first-hand information about our attractions once they arrive here. During the years 2015 thru 2017, 11,271 of our recorded 32,492 visitors that came through the Visitor Center's doors were from outside the United States and represented some 93 international countries. Those folks will loose out on the personal touch that the Visitor Center provided.

Lester Northe  

Posted: October 23rd, 2018 6:15 PM

What about the revenue the center generates from selling items? It is more than an expense; it is a visible sign to people walking by that Oak Park is something special with great architecture and history. Not everybody looks online. Sometimes it's a casual occurence when you see the center and I must visit the home and studio.

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