It’s a cool problem to have.
The Storm Lake City Council has to choose between three capable management companies to take over King’s Pointe. And, the Storm Lake City Council GETS to choose between three capable management companies to take over King’s Pointe.
The beauty of this situation is that on short notice, three experienced and savvy property management companies are so eager to compete for the opportunity to manage KP that they flew in their top dogs and prepared slide shows to make their pitches for the gig.
These people know their stuff. And they wouldn’t come near Storm Lake and King’s Pointe with a 10-foot pole if they weren’t confident that it is a real opportunity and that prospects are for a big success.
All the happy talk and catch phrases about values and ultimate hospitality and community partnerships aside, this is business, and these are businesspeople, and they are after a profit. Who would want to hire a company that wasn’t?
We should feel good about our resort, and our tourism outlook. Because, while we are vetting out these companies, you can be sure they’ve done their homework on us, too. It’s what they do. We must have passed muster.
It’s not going to be an easy choice for the council. Each of the applicant companies seem to have their different strengths and perhaps challenges. They all have business interests in Storm Lake or Iowa already. They are all experienced, but there is no instruction manual for a place like King’s Pointe - a hotel, a restaurant, indoor and outdoor water parks, beach facilities, tourist cabins and a golf course at the same time? Character and energy probably matter as much in this choice as financial ledgers.
One applicant suggests we run the place like Disneyland - and he has a point. Love or hate the House of Mouse, it wins, because it takes care of its property and its visitors better than anyone else, and brings them back, and back. We could use a little of that mentality and that magic.
I’ve perused hotel review sites like TripAdvisor, and while King’s Pointe gets way more good reviews than bad, there are enough valid complaints there to be a concern, often with the same problems mentioned over and over - rooms not properly cleaned, issues with account charging, lackluster food, worn furnishings, broken or closed facilities, lack of response from staff. Good news is, that’s all fixable.
If Storm Lake is going to be in the hospitality business, we had better be hospitable with a capital H, I mean your favorite aunt you haven’t seen for a year, on Thanksgiving, hospitable. A smile, a welcome, immediate, well-trained service and helpful response to any issues. Management you can find. At least one of the water parks open every day. No views of pigeon poop. At least one new piece to the water park and playground each year to keep interest up. Regular replacement of beds and other items to keep things fresh. Details matter.
One of the companies suggested a new position as “Director of Fun,” to plan new events, bring in performers, and just generally make sure everyone is having a good time. Now that sounds like a heck of a job. While this is indeed a business, for Storm Lake this is also our front door, our chance to show people our community and make them feel welcomed, often our one chance to make a good first impression. And if we can’t have fun with this showplace of ours, why did we bother to build it?
The remaining company suggested a bunch of new activities, also a point we should be listening to.
King’s Pointe used to host live music almost every weekend. Great haunted houses for Halloween. Mystery dinner theaters. A beach concert each year, a skateboard show once. Now, there is almost never any entertainment going on in our public-owned resort that would actually bring the local public out. The website sees little change. We have a big Great Lawn space that only sees a couple of public events a year.
When the place was being opened, the plan included an excursion boat for guest outings, that never materialized. It’s been 10 years, we’re probably due to re-think what a waterfront destination resort today should offer.
This past year, we had no rental watercraft/water toys for people to use due to a vendor insurance snag. There’s a snack stand at the beach, but people don’t realize it’s there. People aren’t sure if they can go up in the lighthouse or not, or whether they have to pay. Bike traffic can be difficult. Tweaks can change those things.
It doesn’t take a huge outlay of taxpayer money to offer some memorable activities. Dive-In movies sound fun, so do family fishing packages with poles provided, cooking classes utilizing the culinary facilities we already have, water sports competitions for things like kitesurfers could bring people here. Inviting strolling performers, creative artists, and budding local musicians add ambience.
It’s not just a hotel, or just a restaurant, or just a pool. Taxpayers made a huge investment to build this as something more, and it needs to be run as if it is a big deal to come to Storm Lake.
Of course, it isn’t easy to change change management at a complicated tourism venue, but it’s a heck of a lot better to change it in winter than it would be in the height of the travel season.
City manager Jim Patrick did well to stir the interest of some creative, well-established companies, and the city council did a nice job of putting them through a “job interview” of sorts in an open public session. We gain ideas and excitement from fresh views.
Some might see change as a setback, but from here it looks a lot like opportunity.