Members of Marietta City Council’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee met last week to hear requests from 11 tourism-related organizations seeking grants ranging from about $1,500 to $125,000. Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly chairs the committee. Councilmen Stuart Fleming and Anthony Coleman also sit on the committee.
Tourism grants are awarded by City Council to organizations helping attract tourism and spending to the city. Grants are funded with the 8 percent hotel/motel taxes collected on lodging stays. Those taxes are regulated by state law and must be spent on promoting tourism.
Kelly said she doesn’t know exactly how much the city will be able to spend on the grants. Preparations of the city’s next budget are underway and Kelly said the exact amount of the tourism grants will be included in that budget.
“I think that will help us to determine who is going to be allocated what dollars,” Kelly said.
Organizations requesting grants span several sectors of the tourism industry, including the Old Zion Baptist Church Museum which requested $5,000 and the Earl Smith Strand Theatre, which requested $85,000, about $50,000 more than the $33,500 it received last year.
Kelly said organizations are likely to request more than what they expect to receive, hoping for the best.
“You always push your wish list out there and you ask for more and hope for somewhere in between,” Kelly said.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said each group is deserving.
“The best part is everyone one of them deserves some kind of grant. It’s just whether we can fit what they need completely into the budget,” Tumlin said. “In a way, they’re competing against each other.”
Total requests higher than last year’s grants
Two new organizations sought grants this year. The Atlanta Lyric Theatre requested an $80,000 grant. No representative from the group attended last week’s meeting.
The Georgia Symphony Orchestra also requested a grant for the first time, asking for $25,000.
But the largest requests came from Marietta’s museums. The Marietta Museum of History has asked for $166,807, more than the $128,579 it received last year. The Marietta Cobb Museum of Art asked for $125,000 but received just $50,927 last year.
Sally Macaulay, executive director of the art museum, said she requests $125,000 each year because it’s the amount the museum received before city budget cuts went into place. She maintains the museum brings notoriety to the city.
“I’m trying to get the city of Marietta recognized,” Macaulay said.
The history museum’s $166,807 request would help
fund a new position dedicated to marketing, said Jan Galt, director of operations. The Marietta Museum of History had six employees in 2008, in addition to its director position which is funded with the city’s budget, Galt said, and now has just three.
Another $40,222 was requested from the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum, which is the same amount the organization received last year.
Connie Sutherland, director of the museum, estimates 90 percent of visitors to the Gone with the Wind Museum are travelers who also spend money on hotels, restaurants and shopping.
“Pretty much what we take, we give back,” Sutherland said.
Councilman questions return on investment
Councilman Stuart Fleming questioned the payoff tourism grants provide at a meeting in April. He said Marietta may not be getting back enough on its investment from the cash it pours into the city’s museums and cultural organizations.
Fleming said at the time he isn’t against tourism funding. He has not proposed any cuts or reductions in grants.
Marietta has spent $2 million on the history museum alone over the last 10 years.
“I do think, in hindsight, few people would consider that the wisest investment,” Fleming said.
For every paying customer who enters the history museum, the tourism grant awarded in 2013 pays $19.11. That jumps to $24.38 for the art museum.
The $128,579 tourism grant awarded last year makes up 44 percent of the history museum’s $289,504 budget. Its director’s salary is paid for by the city’s general fund budget, along with the director of the city’s Gone with the Wind Museum.
“I’m not railing on these guys. If you told me right now, ‘Stuart, for the next 10 years, you have $2 million,’ I think most taxpayers would say … ‘We don’t want to spend $2 million on the Museum of History. There are better ways to try to make our community relevant,’” Fleming told the MDJ in April.