COLUMBIA — Limited city funding and a growing list of events and festivals has the people at the Convention and Visitors Bureau discussing an alternative method for determining how to distribute money from its tourism development fund. One consideration is to cap donations to large, established events.
Lorah Steiner, executive director of the bureau, proposed to the bureau’s advisory board the creation of a Signature Event Series of several of Columbia’s major annual events. Some such events would include Art in the Park, the Blind Boone Ragtime Festival, the MU Concert Series, the Fall Festival of the Arts, First Night, the Heritage Festival, the True/False Film Festival and the Twilight Festival.
Events that are part of the series would be guaranteed annual grants of $10,000 from the bureau’s tourism development fund, but they would be ineligible to apply for the maximum $15,000 grant available now.
Currently, the organizers of most festivals and other events apply to the bureau for the full $15,000. Capping some of the most worthy events at $10,000 would allow the bureau to support new events with potential to fill hotel rooms.
Steiner emphasized that the proposal is in early discussion and that the board has decided only to discuss it further and to get feedback from applicants.
Money for the tourism grants comes from the city’s tax on hotel and motel rooms. For fiscal year 2008, the City Council approved $189,984 in tourism grants recommended by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Had the Signature Events Series been in place, grants to those events would have cost $90,000 to $100,000. That would have saved about $100,000 for new events.
Marie Nau Hunter, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs and of the Festival of the Arts, was unaware of the idea for a signature series but said it’s similar to a funding cap used by the Missouri Arts Council.
“A cap can be helpful when you have a limited amount of money to provide,” she said. “If the point is to streamline the process, that can be a good thing when dealing with established events.”
Stricter criteria for grant awards would seek to ensure that new events generate overnight stays at hotels and that they grow over the long term. Events in the signature series would still need to submit plans for how they will spend city money. New events that don’t become part of the signature series would get no more than three years of funding.
Steiner said she realizes the signature series would be a “catch-22” because it would require pulling money for big events even as the bureau strives to maintain its quality.
Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin, who acts as a county liaison to the advisory board but has no vote, said he hopes the signature series will be adopted by this time next year.
“In theory I think the board is OK with the concept, but we need to work through details to not jeopardize the events,” Elkin said. “They always say the devil is in the details.”