Springfield’s City Council last month approved $142,500 in total allocations to both the Springfield History Museum on the Square and Discovery Center. It is the third year that funds have been distributed using hotel- motel tax collections originally designated for another program.
Leslie Forrester is the executive director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council. She chairs the Hotel-Motel Tax Reallocation Committee.
“The  ballot language specifically called out Dickerson Park Zoo, the Gillioz, Landers Theatre, the Discovery Center, and Wonders of Wildlife as recipients of these funds. And so it was in 2012 that the agreement with Wonders of Wildlife was terminated, at their request, and so those funds were allocated to additional support for those capital programs,” says Forrester.
So for each of the past three years, the committee solicits proposals from non-profit organizations that are seeking capital improvement funding. It is dedicating to these projects tax dollars that would have been allocated to the wildlife museum every year. Part of the funding for the committee’s grants included dollars returned by Wonders of Wildlife as well.
The proposals must be large scale for the purpose of restoration or rehabilitation of buildings, property, or equipment. The committee deems projects dealing with “paying off existing debt on prior capital expenditures or funding building maintenance and repair” as a lower priority because these projects are not likely to generate more tourism to Springfield. Agencies are also expected to provide a dollar-for-dollar match.
The larger concept is the additional tax paid by lodging businesses goes toward tourism and community attractions to bolster the local economy and provide more tax revenue for the city.
The term “Heads and beds,” as Forrester explains, is used among the committee and applicants to help explain what they are trying to do.
“Those projects that we are looking to fund, that’s a part of what is considered: to tell us how many additional heads and beds, or incremental overnight stays that they’ll incur as a result of their completed project.”
Councilwoman Jan Fisk is an advocate for the committee as she served as the non-voting council liaison. She gave her predictions for the success of the projects at the Sept. 28 council meeting.
“I think with our Bass Pro museum opening next year, doing these children’s exhibits for the Discovery Center and for the children’s activity area at History Museum, there’s going to be so much to do here that they are not going to be able to do it in one day; they are going to have to spend the night, and they are going to have to eat and shop,” Fisk said.
The committee is appointed by the mayor and consists of the director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council as chair, with representatives from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sports Commission, the Springfield Hotel and Lodging Association, the city manager’s office and a non-voting city council liaison.
Awards were first presented in 2013, and have accumulated to $601,220 over the years.
This year, six organizations submitted letters of intent, and four were invited to submit full applications. Of the $258,107 in available funding, the committee chose to “bank” almost 45 percent of it ($115,607).
Individually, the Discovery Center received $17,500 for a “Pull Yourself Up” enhancement, and the Springfield History museum received $125,000.
The museum is not new to the grant, having received funding two years ago. John Sellars is the executive director.
“It’s fortuitous for us that it’s available, and we have been very happy to have been the recipient twice now. And hope to again in the future. It’s been very good for us, and I think in the long turn, very good for the community,” he said.
The museum’s $125,000 project is just one part of a larger plan for long-term improvement. This year’s grant will go towards a children’s exhibit on the mezzanine of the historic Barth's building (a famous downtown men’s clothing store along Route 66, now belonging to the history museum ) featuring multiple activities to give kids an idea what it was like to travel by car, train, and even wagon.
“We’ve got a trolley car they’ll be able to get on and ride kind of like it is a time machine to different eras and find out stories about the history of Springfield, and so on.”
At Monday’s council meeting, the resolution to approve the grants passed unanimously. After thanking the committee for its work, Fisk expressed disappointment in the amount of proposals received.
Forrester can explain.
“It is a very stringent process that we go through and specific projects that we are looking for, so this is not necessarily the right grant for every organization. I think as we are going through this process - this is the third year of this granting process - organizations are learning what does and doesn’t qualify.”
Forrester called the grading criteria for the proposals a “matrix,” noting the many principles by which each proposal is evaluated: financial need, relevance to ballot language including ability to bring visitors, financial stability and history of the organization, time frame estimated, whether requested funding exceeded $10,000, and the likelihood of the project occurring without the grant.
These projects must finish in 18 months with the exception of city of Springfield projects and agencies. Part of the evaluation requires estimations of the immediate impact the project would have on tourism; however, the impact of the program isn’t exactly known. Forrester says the evidence is mostly anecdotal.
“Since this program is still fairly young, we don’t have a lot of that data yet. Many of the projects are still in the pipeline. For example, the History Museum is one that received funding the first year of the program and will be receiving funding this third year and they still have some time left before that project is fully completed.”
These projects need time to come to fruition and need time to generate travel before we can measure the effects, according to Forrester.
“We definitely look forward seeing those impacts and the results of those funds that have been spent," says Forrester.
The City Council and the Committee believe Springfield will soon see measurable results as the program continues to fund projects around Springfield.