City awards $120K to 22 local events from guest tax fund, including John Brown exhibit and a circus

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Lawrence City Commission has approved grants to fund 22 local events next year, including a traveling exhibit about abolitionist John Brown, the National Granny Basketball Tournament and a community circus.

While those events may be less familiar to Lawrence residents, many long-running local events, such as the Free State Festival, the Santa Rescue and Holiday Lighting Ceremony, and the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale also received some funding.

The grants are awarded from the city’s Transient Guest Tax fund, and the city’s TGT advisory board uses a rubric to score each event and make funding recommendations. The City Commission approved the board’s spending recommendation as part of its meeting this week.

Director of Communications and Creative Resources Porter Arneill, who is also the city staff liaison to the board, told the Journal-World that the board was pleased with the results of this year’s application process and was looking forward to a diverse range of events in 2020.

The highest-dollar grant awarded this year was $12,000, and two events received that amount: the Free State Festival and the “Encountering John Brown” traveling exhibit. Four events received $10,000: the outdoor concert series Live on Mass, the Topeka Impact / KC Power Pre-National Volleyball Tournament, the Association of Academic Museums & Galleries Annual Conference and the April Fool’s Futbol Festival.

The advisory board received 26 applications for 2020 funding and awarded a total of $120,000 to the 22 grant recipients. The board evaluated each event based on two main criteria, according to a city staff memo to the commission. Applicants must be able to demonstrate a measurable economic benefit, such as enhancing the cultural or tourism economy and creating additional transient guest tax and sales tax. Applicants must also be able to demonstrate that their event enhances Lawrence’s character and reputation for tourist activities by showing that the event attracts regional visitors.

Guest tax money comes from a special 6% sales tax charged on hotel rooms in Lawrence that is paid in addition to standard sales taxes. The tax was created in 1994, and its proceeds were designated for promoting tourism in Lawrence. In 2016, the city began awarding $150,000 in guest tax funds as part of a formal tourism grant program. Projections previously provided to the commission indicate that the tax will collect about $1.81 million next year.

The city will only award $120,000 in grants this year, among other changes the commission made as part of the 2020 budget process. To help balance the city’s recreation fund and eliminate the need to begin charging entrance fees at city recreation centers, the commission approved the $30,000 decrease in funding for the TGT grant program and shifted $131,000 of expenses to the fund that were previously paid from other sources, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Events whose grant requests were not approved include Kansas Public Radio’s Big Band Christmas, KPR Classical Concert Featuring Xavier Foley and Heartland Community Health Center Kansas Half Marathon. Thirteen of the events that received a grant received less funding than they requested.

Descriptions of a few of this year’s winning events, summarized from their application materials, are as follows. A full list of the event applications, their dates and descriptions is available on the city’s website. A list of the winning events and their awards is also available.

Traveling Exhibit: “Encountering John Brown”: The exhibit will receive a $12,000 grant. The Watkins Museum of History proposes hosting the debut of the national traveling exhibit, which was developed by Overland Traveling Exhibits. The exhibit lets visitors learn about the radical abolitionist through his encounters with key Civil War-era figures, such as Harriet Tubman and Robert E. Lee. The exhibit will feature large three-dimensional elements that visitors can walk around and peer through and will likely feature a “larger-than-life” sculpture of John Brown. The exhibit requires about 1,500 square feet of display space and will be hosted at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St. A ticket price of $10 is anticipated, and the exhibit will run from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30, 2020.

Granny Basketball National Tournament: The tournament will receive a $2,500 grant. The basketball league is composed of women age 50 and older. The league has 40 teams across the country and 16 teams from eight states will compete in the 12th annual national tournament in Lawrence on July 10 and 11, 2020.

Circus Kirkus Community Circus: The circus will receive a $5,000 grant. Circus Kirkus is a small traveling group of performers who aim to provide a more personal experience of the circus. The circus tent will be set up in Watson Park from Sept. 16 to Oct. 5, 2020. The first week will feature shows in the big tent to benefit select local charitable and nonprofit organizations, street performances during the day and other promotional events in the downtown area. Beginning on Sept. 23, the circus will have eight shows per week, taking place Wednesday through Sunday.

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