Grants distributed by the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau may be attracting overnight visitors, but the amount of lodging tax returned for the $120,000 investment last year was only about $4,200.

Patrick Tuttle, director of the CVB, told the bureau's advisory board last week he believes that will continue to be the case as long as Joplin does not have a major venue to attract conferences or hold more large-scale events. He said that based on his review of hotel information, he estimates that Joplin sold about 1,200 room nights to overnight guests attracted by the events funded partly with CVB grants.

"You spent $120,000 to get $4,200. Again I'll argue this point: Without having the venue space it will never be apples to apples," he said of the grant expense compared with the amount of lodging tax generated. "Without having a meeting space, a concert place, an indoor sporting event site, without a big box of some sort, we can never ever get close."

In terms of accommodating a crowd, the events that attract the largest crowds are those held downtown.

Without an alternative, "Main Street is our best venue," Tuttle told the board.

Changing the cap

Board members are looking at changes that could be made to try to beef up the grants program and streamline the process the board has been using to decide how much applicants receive.

Each year, the CVB allocates $120,000 in receipts from a city lodging tax to assist local events that could draw overnight visitors who will generate business for local motels and hotels. The board takes applications from event organizers and gives out up to $110,000 of that amount. The remaining $10,000 is held for the bureau's director to use for event needs outside those heard by the board.

CVB grants in past years have been given to events such as the Joplin Memorial Marathon, Four State Trucks/Chrome Shop Mafia's Guilty By Association Truck Show to benefit Special Olympics, Ozark Christian College conference series, Pro Musica, and to area attractions.

Factors considered by the CVB board when awarding a grant include the potential to provide motel and hotel room nights, the event's potential to grow as an annual community offering, whether it has received previous funding, if the organization documents its draw, and its overall appeal.

Each application is scored on a 100-point system using that criteria and other requirements and must receive at least 60 points to be considered further for a funding amount.

Grants are capped at $15,000 though the board applies a set of criteria to decide how much an event is to receive. The money is intended to be used for advertising outside Joplin to attract visitors or for entertainment or equipment needed for an event.

Board members are considering whether to increase the $15,000 cap to encourage larger or costlier events.

"We want events that have a higher end and then we want the process to be easier," Tuttle said.

Board member Mike Greninger said that limit originally was $25,000 when the grants program started. Tuttle said that as more event organizers learned of the program and applied over the years, the cap was reduced to $20,000, and then in 2017 lowered again to $15,000. He said that was the result of demand. Last year there were proposals that totaled $219,000 for the $120,000 available.

Changing the process

Calls for applications go out in April. The applicants then prepare 5-minute presentations that are made to the board about the event, and the volunteer board hears them all in one day. That's a process board members said they would like to change so that they do not have to take a full day away from their businesses or jobs to hear the details of the requests.

Denise DuBois, who represents hotels, said that attractions were not included in the grants program when it was established, and that they were added later to help them with advertising costs.

Greninger suggested that Tuttle could pay for assistance to attractions from his $10,000 discretionary fund or from an amount he budgets rather than including them in the events grants.

Kevin Greim, who represents attractions, also said that perhaps the requests could be considered throughout the year rather than one time.

"What we thought that part of the problem is lining them all up makes it this attraction versus this attraction," to compete one day a year for funding. "If we did as the year went on it might lend itself to evaluation of that event itself."

He suggested holding presentations in May and having time between then and July to evaluate the amount of grants.

Tuttle said the grants have been evaluated at one time by the end of July in order to be included in the city budget for the next fiscal year.

Greninger said the board should be able to hear a request for an event throughout the year rather than all on one day. He also said he supported raising the cap.

"We're trying to open the doors for people with bigger ideas and bigger plans to ask for more than $15,000 to come and get that grant money," Greim said. He also recommended changing the rules to allow quarterly requests rather than once a year.

Tuttle told the board he would work on some proposed revisions and present them to the board at a later meeting.

It will take more discussions to reconfigure the program, Tuttle said. The changes likely would not be ready until the 2021 grant cycle.