The Galveston Park Board of Trustees has weighed in with recommendations for a city ordinance about how hotel tax money will be spent on marketing for arts and historic preservation projects as the city considers revisions to how that money is allocated.
For more than a year, the city has been exploring changes to the way hotel tax money is distributed by the Arts and Historic Preservation Advisory Board. The board selects groups for grants using money derived from taxes tourists pay to stay in local hotels.
The money comes from a portion of the hotel occupancy tax and is earmarked for marketing to increase tourism to the island. Some of the groups that receive funding include The Grand 1894 Opera House and the Galveston Historical Foundation.
The city’s expected to vote on those changes next month, Councilman Craig Brown said Tuesday during a park board meeting.
The park board has asked that the advisory board keep its makeup, with tourism-related business representatives and marketing professionals filling most positions on the board, said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The park board also recommended the city develop ways to quantify the return on the investment for attracting tourists, she said. The park board already has ways of measuring tourism investments, which could be adopted by the city for the fund, according to the park board. Mayor Jim Yarbrough also has said he wants to see better verification that the money spent results in “heads in beds.”
The park board’s tourism committee analyzed other cities that use hotel occupancy tax for the arts and found many dedicated additional money from other funding sources to such programs, she said.
“Arts and historic preservation is a backbone of our community character and we’re squabbling over three-quarters of a penny only from hotel occupancy tax that has a restrictive nature to it,” de Schaun said.
“Instead of arm wrestling over a little pie, let’s make the pie bigger.”
In a January letter and subsequent meeting with city council, the park board spelled out some of its recommendations for the allocation process, including allocating funds to beneficiaries based on a percentage of total resources and paying out the grant on a monthly basis.
Those recommendations were well received, though not all were adopted in the draft ordinance, de Schaun told trustees Tuesday.
The park board has since met with representatives from the arts and historic preservation board, the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Galveston Hotel and Lodging Association, the Galveston Historical Foundation and The Grand 1894 Opera House to develop additional recommendations for amendments to the Arts and Historical Preservation Ordinance, de Schaun said.
The city started exploring changes to the arts and preservation ordinance in late 2016. Yarbrough has talked about restructuring the way the money is allocated to projects to get the “highest impact” out of the spending.
The city has drafted an ordinance allocating up to $50,000 of the fund to public art projects selected by the Arts Commission, a separate board.
Yarbrough at one time floated the idea of eliminating the advisory board and giving the responsibility to the park board, which doles out hotel occupancy tax money for other grants. The new draft ordinance names the board the Arts and History Fund Advisory Board.
The park board had recommended spending the tax allocation in full on marketing projects. The grants aren’t used to pay salaries or debt, nor are there administrative costs for it, so the board didn’t think the fund needed to have a reserve set aside, de Schaun said. But the latest ordinance does keep a 5 percent reserve fund, according to the city document.
The city council meets March 22 and could vote on the new ordinance then, Brown said.