Does Oak Park need to be marketed?
Absolutely. And to multiple audiences.
That would be the rub on the concept currently being aggressively pushed by Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, which would effectively merge the Visit Oak Park tourism bureau into the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation. These are two vital organizations that rightly point their efforts at two distinct crowds.
OPEDC, new and improved under Abu-Taleb’s leadership, focuses on recruiting and retaining business and development to Oak Park. It is in the nascent stages of crafting a marketing strategy to reach development pros with a simple message that the village president has repeated a thousand times: “Oak Park is open for business.”
Visit Oak Park has an altogether different mission and prospective audience. It seeks to reach tourists, likely those already traveling to Chicago and considering a day trip from the Loop to our village. We are blessed with the dual attractions of Hemingway and Wright, a great location and easy transit.
Effectively reaching both audiences has great value to Oak Park, its economy, its standing as a premier community.
Abu-Taleb’s determination to blend them into a single organization with shared leadership and lesser resources does not make sense to us.
Oak Park’s direct taxpayer funding to Visit Oak Park is miniscule: under $100,000 annually. Those funds, some $150,000 annually from a local tax on guests at local hotels and B & Bs, are extended by Oak Park’s collection and pass through. And then, at least in normal times, the money is leveraged by grants from the Illinois state government, which most recently totaled some $450,000.
Like everything else, this year’s appropriation from the state is tied up in the flim-flammery of the state budget crisis. We’re confident that state officials, and local officials, will continue to recognize that promoting tourism is an investment and not a cost.
Put the two entities in a shared office as Abu-Taleb suggests? Great. Let them gradually seek out synergies? Great. A shotgun marriage that distracts both groups and potentially puts state aid for tourism at risk?
Not a good plan.