2017-09-07 / Front Page

Chamber, vintners group grow closer

Visitors center to close
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

COMING DOWN - The Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce sign will soon be coming off the Thunderbird building in Lake Leelanau. COMING DOWN - The Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce sign will soon be coming off the Thunderbird building in Lake Leelanau. The county Chamber-maintained visitor center in Lake Leelanau is being closed as the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association draw closer.

“The LPVA was kind enough to let us bunk with them at considerable savings,” explained Tina Van Thomme, a member of the county Chamber Board of Directors. “This is going to be a joint effort and a saving for both organizations that are similar in what they do in the promotion of tourism.”

The Chamber plans to move its visitors center to join its offices to the Leelanau Building in the former Norris School, located off M-22 at Cherry Bend Road in Greilickville.

The Chamber Visitors Center, whose doors have been locked all summer after former Chamber executive director Sally Guzowski retired and no replacement was sought, is located on M-204 near the Lake Leelanau Narrows bridge. Van Thomme said foot traffic has been decreasing at the center as more people look for information online, and she praised the LPVA’s abilities to connect with would-be visitors through its website and social media capabilities.

Matt Gregory, manager of Chateau de Leelanau winery in Bingham Township and Chamber president, said that LPVA is now charging the Chamber to answer its phone and email inquiries. The groups jointly announced in June that the LPVA was voluntarily handling the administrative work of the Chamber.

Gregory, however, said he does not see a time when the two organizations would merge, citing differences in their roles.

“There is no plan to combine the two,” Gregory said. “While the Chamber and LPVA have similar goals, the LPVA is really meant to serve its members. And the two of them working together is really just out of convenience.”

It was on April 1, 2013 — no fooling — that the Chamber moved from rented space in the Hilltop building in Bingham Township where Gregory’s winery is still located into 1,200 square feet of the remodeled “Thunderbird” building owned by Jim and Madeline Houdek.

Madeline Houdek said following the Lake Leelanau Labor Day bridge walk, which passed the Thunderbird building, that Gregory had started discussions about terminating the Chamber’s lease. Houdek recalled being told that Chamber membership increased 30 percent when the Lake Leelanau visitors center opened.

“Everyone seemed to like how the Chamber was centrally located; it was great for membership,” she said. “I’m a member, and as a member I’m a little concerned about the future of the Chamber.”

Lake Leelanau attorney Tim Haring, the second-longest serving member of the Chamber Board, said several options were considered at the August meeting before a decision was reached.

“There were different opinions on it, but at the end of the day I think we were united in saying that we have to try this,” Haring said.

Gregory said the Chamber space will be the first thing encountered by visitors to the Leelanau Building, which counts as its lessees artists and professionals.

“We feel that being at the base of the peninsula will help the Chamber be a strong proponent of tourism. We’ll have a nice location for people to stop as they are heading north,” he said.

Still, he added, he appreciates what the Houdeks have done for the Chamber.

“We were getting a very nice deal from the Houdeks. But when you get a better deal, you have to take it,” Gregory said.

He added that closing down the Visitors Center was never a long-range plan of the Chamber board.

“During the busy part of the season we couldn’t find the volunteers, and we didn’t have the time to hire and train a new director,” Gregory said.

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