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Nonprofits face tougher tourism grant standards

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Catherine W. Idzerda
March 15, 2012
— Heads in beds.

That's what Delavan officials said matters when it comes to tourism and tax dollars.


This year, Delavan nonprofit organizations that want a share of the city's room tax revenue must be able to prove that their events have the potential to fill hotel rooms.


That's a change from previous years, when requests for money were made during the council's budgeting sessions and didn't require significant measures of accountability.


How much money is at stake?


It depends.


Last year, Delavan collected $252,000 in room tax, City Administrator Denise Pieroni said. With Lake Lawn Resort being closed for part of the year, room tax revenues were down.


State statutes state that approximately 17.5 percent of room tax dollars must be used to promote tourism activities that will bring money into restaurants and hotels.


That means that $44,110 is available for this year's projects. For organizations with small budgets, tourism grants can make or break and event.


Jackie Busch, president of the Delavan-Delavan Lake Chamber of Commerce, said her organization has had two grant requests approved.


"It's a new process," Busch said.


In the past, she presented the chamber's needs to the council. Now, she has to fill out an application and go before a committee of a city council member, two representatives from the hotel industry, representatives from local restaurants and others who might have a stake in bringing visitors into the city.


"They also ask how you plan to track the success of the event," Busch said.


The chamber received money for its "Cars Time Forgot." It used to be a one-day show but has evolved into a three-day event that will include a tour map of scenic roads in Walworth County, live music and other celebrations.


Laura Jacobs-Welch, president of the Downtown Business Association and owner of The Brick Street Market, said the new process is more time consuming and complicated but has advantages over the old system.


"To the extent that it allows people to know that funds are available, that's a good thing," Jacobs-Welch said.


For example, up until a few years ago, the Downtown Business Association wasn't really aware that it could use room tax dollars, she said.


It also forces organizations to carefully review their events.


"We get the chance to think about which of our events could be more successful, what we could do better to bring more people in," Jacobs-Welch said.



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