RECAP: Tourism Business Improvement District Meeting, January 18, 2024
Website updates, grant application process, global tourism, and more…
The hot topic of a pool of $200,000 available for grants going toward events in Twentynine Palms was the highlight of the two-hour meeting of the Twentynine Palms Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), which took place Thursday, January 18, 2024. The agenda included updates to the Visit29.org website, TBID marketing updates, the TBID Sponsorship and Event Grant Program, and a presentation from Discover Inland Empire. 1
Board members in attendance were Chair Rakesh Mehta (Best Western), Heidi Grunt (29 Palms Inn), and Patricia Knight (Desert Vacation Rentals). Maria Madrid (Holiday Inn Express& Suites) is on maternity leave. New member Ashton Ramsey, owner of Ramsey 29, will be filling the vacant TBID seat previously occupied by former TBID Vice Chair Nalini Maharaj beginning at the next meeting.
AGENDA ITEMS 1 & 2—Visit 29 Palms Marketing Updates. Visit 29 Marketing Director Breanne Dusastre presented on the rebuild of the Visit29.org website, including an app that will allow business owners to manage their own listings on the site. Notable media platforms that promoted Twentynine Palms tourism in the month of December include features in New York Times Travel (“36 Hours in Joshua Tree”; behind a paywall for some readers) and the San Bernardino Sun.
Dusastre also reported on the 29 Palms Visitor Center and relayed some tourism stats for January 2024, acknowledging that the Visitor Center did notice a 1.5% decrease in visitors compared to January 2023. An idea previously thwarted by COVID lockdowns, the Visitor Center will now be introducing bi-monthly mixers for business owners and residents. The first mixer is set to take place sometime in February.
Finally, Dusastre presented Visit29.org’s future advertisement campaign with Destination Travel Network.
AGENDA ITEM 3— Event Sponsorship and Grant Guidelines. After public comments at the November 30 meeting requested a more robust grant application process, an events subcommittee was formed comprised of Heidi Grunt, Patricia Knight, and Desert Trumpet Editor Cindy Bernard to develop guidelines and an application. Grants are for recreation, arts and culture, wellness, culinary and astronomy events in Twentynine Palms and its sphere of influence that support TBID’s mission of increasing tourism.
Total funding available for the TBID grant is $200,000 for 2024, a figure directed by City Council after the Board amassed $560,000 in reserves. Grants are funded from a 1.5% tax on lodging guests that is passed through the owners to the city.
Knight presented the Twentynine Palms TBID Sponsorship and Event Grant Program.
Sponsorship grants support smaller projects and range from $100 to $3,000.
Events grants are available from $3,000 to $20,000, catering to larger events with significant potential to boost tourism and overnight stays during the non-peak season (May through September). This is a matching grant,2 and in the initial presentation, applicants were required to supply a 1:1 match for the requested grant amount.
Applications are due February 15 for events taking place between March 1 and June 30, 2024. Apply by April 1 for events happening between July 1 and December 31, 2024. Guidelines are here.
The initiation of the grant program was well-received by the audience, although a handful of community members urged that the grant application guidelines be clarified. Susan Peplow requested that the TBID clean up language on in-kind matching, better define grant terms, and clarify qualifications for the grant panel. “Overall,” she said, “this is a professional presentation we’re trying to button up.”
During public comment, a letter submitted by TBID events subcommittee member Cindy Bernard, along with statements at the podium from Hi-Desert musician Joseph Candelaria, Downtown Business Association member Blake Hodges-Koch, and Anna Stump, Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC) and Director of Mojaveland, encouraged that the TBID reduce the match to 25% of the grant amount (or using the prior example, the applicant would supply $5,000 on a $10,000 grant).
Mary Jane Binge suggested it would be beneficial for the city to piggyback off of other area events such as the Coachella Music Festival .
Tonna Edwards expressed concerns about people wanting to come to Twentynine Palms while Seth Zaharias of Joshua Tree’s Cliffhanger Guides said he has been trying to get involved with Twentynine Palms for years and that he is excited to work here. ”I’m really impressed by what you guys are doing. This TBID funding idea is amazing, and I think it’s going to accelerate your guys’ process with that.”
Council member Octavious Scott reminded meeting attendees that while the TBID grant is meant to serve local hoteliers, the City has separate event-funding options available for organizations to seek out.
While Council member Scott concluded the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of interjections from attendees caused disruption in the meeting’s parliamentary procedure. Primary issues of contention included the number of applications one entity can submit per grant cycle and who can sit on the grant review panel.
TBID member Patricia Knight noted, “the one restriction I notice in here is that volunteers for the [grant] review committee cannot submit an application because that would be a conflict of interest.”
Eric Menendez of the Desert Beacon said from the audience, “Unless you can get five people, you might run into complications too, because it’s like, what if you have people who are on the PAAC or on the DBA? Can’t [they] just recuse themselves from the vote like they do on City Council? Or maybe have an extra board member sit on?”
Chair Mehta then responded, “You don’t want to exclude people who want to volunteer but might want to apply.”3
Finally, a motion was made by Board member Heidi Grunt resulting in these action items being voted forward: updating the application to reduce the 1:1 match to 25% (13% in-kind and 12% cash match), clarifying language on differences between sponsors and grantees, and the establishment of recusals for grant review committee members should they also submit applications for funding.
A special grant application deadline of February 15, 2024, is set for events happening between March 1 - June 30, 2024.
Apply by April 1, 2024, for events happening between July 1 - December 31, 2024.
The TBID is currently seeking applicants to volunteer on the grant review committee. Those wishing to do so may apply here. The deadline to apply is February 15. A five-member volunteer committee, including up to two TBID members, will review proposals. Volunteers must recuse themselves from scoring their own grant applications if they have applied.
AGENDA ITEM 4— Discover Inland Empire Travel Industry Events Sponsorship Package. A representative of Discover Inland Empire proposed a Travel Industry Events Sponsorship Package that would feature Twentynine Palms branding at various travel trade shows throughout California, Asia, South America, and Canada.
The next meeting of the Twentynine Palms Tourism Board Improvement District will take place at 3:30 pm, February 29, 2024, at City Hall.
Our reporter was not present for general public comment so that item is not included in our coverage of the meeting.
Matching grants are common with a 1:1 match being a frequent requirement. A 1:1 match means that applicants are required to supply an amount equal to the the grant given. For example, a $20,000 proposal would consist of $10,000 in grant funds and $10,000 in funds raised by the applicant from other sources. Often 50% of of the applicant amount can be “in-kind,” which refers to donated goods and services instead of cash.
Although Bernard’s public comment letter referenced the subcommittee’s reliance on other grants as models, standard grant procedures practiced in other cities were not raised during this later discussion. A quick survey of other grants indicates that one application per cycle is common. Also a comparison between recusals on Council and recusals on a grant panel fails to acknowledge that Council members are not competing for money. However, a grant panelist who has also submitted a grant application is judging grants that they are competing against, which is generally considered to constitute a conflict of interest.
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