SEBRING — Members of the Tourist Development Council discussed grants and meeting times and decided to cut back.
The TDC will now meet quarterly instead of monthly, and will consider grant applications twice a year instead of throughout the year. Members believe this will encourage applicants to become highly organized with a marketing plan and prepared applications in time for a semi-annual deadline.
TDC Board member Cynthia Garren said she liked the idea of having reimbursable grants — meaning applicants would need to find, have or secure funds for their marketing before asking for a grant, to be reimbursed after they present proof of its effectiveness.
However, she originally asked for once-a-year applications.
“As someone who submits a lot of grants (applications), it really should be once a year, not slapped together in two weeks,” said Garren, director of Cultural Programs for South Florida State College. “I like the idea of a marketing plan.”
She also suggested the TDC look at having grants to help existing events enhance what they offer participants and visitors, instead of only doing marketing grants.
The TDC is already doing that through website, social media and targeted digital advertising, Garren said.
Liz Barber, CEO of the Sebring Area Chamber of Commerce, said that would be additional entertainment. That’s risky, she said, because the key audience for the event might not like it, and if the TDC doesn’t promote it, organizers might not add on that element of an event.
TDC Board member Mark Stewart, also Sebring city councilman, spoke as a former hotelier and said, “People in the trade love it when new events come along.”
He favored twice-a-year applications, at least.
TDC Board Chair Jim Brooks, also Board of County Commission chair, suggested they could have quarterly deadlines.
Stewart said well-organized events could get their paperwork and financial figures together at least twice each year. Otherwise, they don’t do events.
He was concerned about meeting quarterly, however. Up until now, the TDC has met monthly on the third or fourth Thursday, starting at 8:15 a.m. in the county commission chambers at 600 S. Commerce Ave. in Sebring.
Quarterly meetings, he said, would become “a marathon to noon.”
Brooks then suggested meeting every two months.
TDC Board member Vicki Pontius said she agreed with having reimbursable grants, but advised that event organizers sometimes have trouble raising money up front.
She also noted how the TDC hadn’t seen any grant requests in the last couple of months — grants for the Sebring Soda Festival and the Heartland Triathlon had been approved well in advance of the respective March and June events.
However, meetings had started getting longer and longer, Pontius said.
Casey Hartt, TDC lead consultant, said the TDC has been doing direct-funded, reimbursable and marketing assistance grants.
“Right now, it’s ‘first come, first serve,’” Hartt said.
Dan Andrews, race coordinator for Heartland Triathlon — which received a $5,000 marketing grant — told the TDC Board said he still saw the grants as a “limited marketing effort” and suggested the TDC could look at other opportunities beyond grants to assist tourist-drawing events.
Garren suggested forming a subcommittee on the matter, but Brooks reminded her anything done with more than one board member would have to be an open meeting, under Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law.
TDC Board member Maria Sutherland said she wouldn’t want another layer of bureaucracy.
Ultimately, members agreed to just send their thoughts on the matter to Hartt so they could then be compiled for the next meeting.