Victoria arts, tourism groups will see less funding

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 23, 2014 at 2:23 a.m.
Updated July 24, 2014 at 2:24 a.m.

Victoria arts, sports and history groups are bracing for cuts to the city funds they've grown to depend on.

With 19 nonprofit and for-profit organizations requesting $873,890 in assistance and only $400,000 set aside for them, not everyone will be happy when the outcome is announced.

The funding - hotel occupancy tax funds - comes from a tax that hotel, motel and bed and breakfast guests pay on rented rooms. The city can only spend that revenue to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry.

Mayor Paul Polasek said the funds pave the way to bring people to Victoria while providing the community new activities and opportunities.

Without those dollars, the council would be hard-pressed to justify these expenditures, he said.

"You've got to stay focused on the mission of what those funds are for, and that's to promote tourism in Victoria," Polasek said.

The $400,000 chunk set aside for next year is about $150,000 less than the previous year but will cushion those organizations from volatility if the hotel industry were to take a dip.

"I think it best serves these entities to know that there's some funding available, and it won't swing wildly and affect their operations," Polasek said.

Bootfest, which is a city event paid for with the occupancy tax funds, is Polasek's favorite.

"Bootfest is a great community event not only for tourism but also for our local citizens to enjoy a great deal," he said.

Other organizations with long-standing histories are vying for the same funding as first-year applicants, which Polasek said could provide new opportunities to bring in overnight tourism.

Of the 19 applicants, three are first-timers, including the Minority Business Council, the South Texas Zoological Society and Victoria Comic Con.

"Comic Con is a for-profit, and they've been very successful," Polasek said. "If they're bringing in a lot of visitors who spend the night, that's what it's all about - for profit or not."

Since the city started awarding the funds in 2010, the grants have increased from $88,000 to a peak of $545,557 last year, according to information from the city.

Bryan Hons, the 25-year-old promoter behind the comic book convention, said the $10,000 funding will help grow the gathering into a two-day event.

"It's something the city should definitely support," he said.

With 3,000 people visiting for the inaugural event, which was held in January at the Victoria Community Center, and at least 60 vendors staying in hotels, Hons expects the expansion in 2015 to bring in even more visitors and overnighters.

"Honestly, if the city doesn't approve it, we're still going to keep doing it, but it will grow a little slower," he said.

Dates are already booked for Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 at the community center.

While the organization does not have nonprofit status, Hons said it's not about putting money in people's pockets - "It's for the community."

"We try to keep everything as low as possible so everyone and their family can come," he said. "Not everyone can pay a couple hundred to hang out for a weekend."

Admission for 2014 cost $10, but convention goers will see a slight increase in 2015 with the expanded programming, Hons said.

"I enjoy this kind of stuff, and I figured a lot of people would, too," he said. "I had no idea it would be that many, but I guess there's a big crowd in Victoria for it. We've never had anything like it, so everyone just came out."

According to records from the city, the Leo J. Welder Center, which is owned by Victoria College, is requesting $60,000 for projection upgrades, a digital sign and a website; Victoria TX Indie Film Fest is seeking $150,000 for the festival and filmmaker incentives, under the nonprofit status of Victoria Performing Arts Center Inc.; and Victoria Ballet Theatre is looking for $113,370 for its season.

The seven-person committee in charge of recommending funding to the city council has begun working out who gets what.

Polasek said he wants to discourage approving funds for beer and alcohol.

"Certain types of expenditures should be paid for with private funds," he said.

With no policy in place to guide the Victoria HOT Fund Committee on funding requests that include alcohol, one could be developed, Polasek said.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Director LaRue Roth said no matter how the funding shakes out, she will stay focused on the bureau's mission to market the city.

The city is at the point of being able to offer "the whole enchilada" to tourists - from independent restaurants and evening activities to the hotels to stay at, she said.

City spokesman OC Garza said they appreciate all their tourism partners.

"The more we have, the more we have to market," he said.

He said it comes down to economic development.

"This is leisure travel," he said. "Everybody who travels to Victoria spends money, and that drives up sales taxes. ... The council is not afraid of investing money in the travel industry."



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