City Commission to decide which tourism-generating events will receive grants under new program

Cyclists competing in the women's masters 40+/50+ and women's 4 divisions speed through the intersection of 7th and Massachusetts during the 2014 Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium races on Sunday.

The Lawrence City Commission will decide Tuesday what events to fund — and how much they should receive — through a new grant program created to give a boost to tourism-generating activities.

The first round of the Transient Guest Tax Grant Program garnered two dozen applications totaling $225,671 in funding requests. The newly established Transient Guest Tax Advisory Board was tasked with picking and choosing which organizations received funding.

The seven-member board chose 15 programs to receive the maximum $150,000. However, after questions about how the board calculated the 25 percent rule (no more than 25 percent of the event’s budget could be funded through the city), one event’s grant was decreased and two more may be omitted.

With the changes, $123,000 would be distributed to 13 events.

The board selected the Lawrence Arts Center’s Free State Festival to receive the full $15,500 for which it had asked. Because the event had already received $30,000 in city funding and $30,000 from Lawrence’s convention and visitors bureau, the maximum amount calculated should’ve been $7,375, said Megan Gilliland, the city’s communications manager, in a Monday memo.

And if the City Commission wants to include funding from the convention and visitors bureau in the 25 percent maximum, two events — the Downtown Shot Put and the Tour of Lawrence — would have to be omitted from the grant program, Gilliland’s memo states.

The advisory board selected the Downtown Shot Put to receive $9,009 and the Tour of Lawrence $10,000.

Commissioners will be asked Tuesday to determine how the 25 percent should be calculated and whether to include those events.

The first-ever National African American Quilt Conference was chosen by the advisory board to receive the largest grant, at $40,000. The conference is a citywide event planned for 2017 to celebrate the legacy of the African-American quilting tradition. The number of overnight stays the event is estimated to generate is 1,000 — more than any other event that applied for funding.

The advisory board selected Theatre Lawrence’s holiday show, “Peter Pan,” to receive $20,000. The board is recommending the Lawrence Busker Fest receive $15,626 and the 2016 conference of the Globalization of Pharmaceuticals Education Network $10,000.

The remaining events, not counting the Tour of Lawrence or the Downtown Shot Put, are up to receive anywhere from $1,575 to $8,200.

The events not selected to receive any funding were some established events, such as the Art Tougeau parade, as well as some new events, such as a proposed five-day downtown concert called “Live on Mass Street.”

A full list of both funded and unfunded requests can be found on the city’s website.

In budget talks last year, the City Commission set aside $150,000 in transient guest tax dollars to fund the creation of the grant program. Transient guest tax is the 6-percent tax charged on all overnight hotel stays in Lawrence.

Under the program’s guidelines, grants are intended to support events that can demonstrate a benefit to the community or economy; enhance Lawrence’s character; and generate additional transient guest tax and sales tax.

According to a city memo, the City Commission had been getting numerous requests for event support outside of the regular budget cycle. The grant program is a way to limit those requests, the memo states.

The most recent example was the Lawrence Arts Center’s request in September for $100,000 to keep the Free State Festival running.

At the time, the City Commission decided to give the summer arts event $60,000 after discussion about whether the event actually brought in many overnight guests. According to information provided in its grant application, the Lawrence Arts Center is estimating the Free State Festival will generate 50 overnight stays.

The City Commission meets at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.