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New $49K plan to lure tourists to city

Roger Brooks has a big job to do. By next February, the Seattle-based consultant needs to come up with a step-by-step plan on how to increase tourism in the city of Oak Harbor.

He’ll get a big paycheck for his efforts. Tuesday, City Council members agreed to enter into a contract with Brooks’ company, Destination Development, Inc., and pay $48,800 for a tourism assessment, as well as a tourism development and marketing plan.

Three council members who met with Brooks this summer positively gushed about him during a workshop last month on economic development and again at the meeting Tuesday night.

“We sat there just in awe of him,” Councilwoman Sheilah Crider said at the workshop. “He helps you find those options which are viable for the community. He touched on everything we had wanted to talk about.”

“He really delivers,” said Councilman Larry Eaton, who pointed to Brooks’ long resume of success stories. “He was really positive and enthusiastic. He was really uplifting.”

The council members even went as far as to promise each other that they will follow Brooks’ plan, wherever it may lead.

But not everyone is happy about the investment. Priscilla Heistad, director of Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said the city needs action, not another plan.

“If they have that kind of money laying around, let’s implement one of the plans that are sitting on the shelf,” she said. “Let’s dust off one of these plans and pick something to do.”

The existing plans include Harbor Pride’s “Blueprint for Change” in 2000, the 1995 North Whidbey Community Diversification Action Plan, and the 1990 Harbor Watch, which is a development plan for the downtown and waterfront.

Brooks has already written a plan for Oak Harbor that is sitting on a shelf. In 1998, the Chamber of Commerce got a $25,000 grant to hire Chandler & Brooks, Inc., to prepare a market assessment for a waterfront lodging facility. The study concluded that the best use of the so-called Copeland / Beselin site on Bayshore Drive would be an upscale lodging and conference facility. The land remains vacant today.

Heistad said Brooks also created the plan recommending that all the entities on the island contribute lodging tax funds to a county-wide marketing effort. This plan is currently in effect, culminating in the “do nothing here” advertising campaign, although the City Council voted to pull out of it at the end of the year.

In fact, Brooks’ firm was one of 32 consultants that sent in proposals for the marketing plan. Yet the members of the county-wide marketing committee, which included Heistad, were not at all impressed by Brook’s proposal attribute. His firm wasn’t even one of the eight candidates selected to be interviewed.

Nevertheless, Brooks has been involved in many major success stories across the country. Most comparable to Oak Harbor, perhaps, is Ocean Shores.attribute

Joan Payne, executive director of the Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce, said Brooks helped create the small town’s impressive Web site and wrote the original economic development plan that has guided the community to tourism bliss over the last eight years or so.

“He had a very strong influence and was very much a part of the Ocean Shores community at the time,” she said. “We are booming, we truly are. You can’t give all the credit to Roger Brooks, but he was a factor.”

Brooks did not return a call for comment. But, according to the Destination Development Web site, Brooks has worked in tourism and economic development for more than 20 years and has become one of the most recognized experts in the field of tourism, consumer trends, marketing and project development in the country.

He is author of the book “The 25 Immutable Rules of Successful Tourism” and claims to have recruited more than $2.8 billion in new tourism development projects to rural communities and resorts.

“Over the past ten years,” the Web site states, “he has worked with more than 160 communities, assisting them with business and product development plans, marketing programs, market assessments, and guidance to increase their tourism and economic development potential. Roger is nationally recognized for his ability to get communities excited, energizing them to success.”

Councilwoman Sue Karahalios also pointed out that Brooks had family members who lived in Oak Harbor and is very familiar with the area.

For Oak Harbor, Brooks will create an action plan with step-by-step instructions to increase the city’s tourism revenues, including recommendations for a “branding” strategy. His team will first create an overall tourism assessment of the city, then do an on-site assessment of the community.

According to the city’s contract with Brooks, he will interview up to 20 stakeholders, including city officials, planners, owners of lodging establishments, retailers and other business folks. He will also look at existing community planning efforts and plans, dovetailing them into his plan.

Steve Powers, community development director, said he’s very optimistic about Brooks’ efforts. Tuesday, the City Council chose not to approve his request to fund $3,000 in preliminary design work for a downtown plaza adjacent to the site of the proposed new library downtown. The council members said they wanted to wait until after Brooks completed his assessment.

The planning department is currently working on their “downtown public realm plan,” which will bring the past planning efforts together “into a coherent interrelated framework for action.” Although this effort seems to have some similarities to what Brooks will do, Powers said a redundancy will not happen, but they will compliment each other.

“I don’t think there is a conflict of investment,” he said.

But perhaps the most important thing Brooks can bring to the city is a sense of hopefulness. For city council members, the future of the city is tied to the future of tourism.

“For the first time in my career on council...” Councilman Richard Davis said,” everyone is facing the same direction.”

Councilman Paul Brewer agreed. “I’m excited that we’re finally going to get committed and do something... Five to ten years from now, we’ll have a vibrant downtown area, a vibrant city.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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