By CARL SMITH
Starkville’s Visitors and Convention Council is currently accepting grant applications to help support local, non-profit entities draw tourists to Oktibbeha County.
The VCC Sponsorship Program is a reimbursement effort used to help fund new projects and events in an effort to establish them as self-sustaining, tourist-attracting events. Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president for tourism, said approximately $50,000-$60,000 is available for grants in the coming fiscal year.
Organizations are eligible for up to three years of support, and continuing funding is available to those events and programs deemed to have significantly impacted Starkville and Oktibbeha County. Organizations with proven success then have the opportunity to become a VCC-sponsored tourism partner.
All projects and events awarded funding must be completed one year following Oct. 1 — within the VCC’s fiscal year. The deadline for this year’s Sponsorship Program is 5 p.m. July 13.
Gregory says funding up-and-coming area events and other tourist-attracting mechanisms is a great way to generate new ideas which bring in increased 2 percent food, beverage and hotel tax revenues for Starkville. The 2 percent tax helps fund tourism efforts and allows more collaborative efforts.
“We look at the needs of the application and try to figure out what we can support,” she said. “Our mission is very broad, so we definitely look at applications from events to infrastructure improvements — really anything that enhances the quality of life in Starkville and encourages people to spend time here and come back.”
Last year’s grant recipients include the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, Starkville Area Arts Council, Starkville Central Neighborhood Foundation, Starkville-MSU Symphony, the Mississippi Horse Park, Starkville Rotary Club, Starkville Soccer Association, Mitchell Memorial Library and Starkville Tennis Association.
Mississippi Horse Park Director Bricklee Miller said her organization uses grant funding to actively seek out and promote new events. For example, she said funding help bring a three-day Lucky Dog barrel racing event to the facility, which was one of the best attended events of the year.
“We’ve been using the program for a number of years. (Having additional funding) is extremely helpful when cold-calling people and trying to get an event,” Miller said. “We don’t use large lump sums of the funding on one event, though. We sprinkle it throughout our year. We also can use it to advertise, making sure we’re bringing new business in. It’s definitely a great tool in a competitive market.”
Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival coordinator Stephen Cunetto says grant funding allows his group to advertise the event on a national scale. Cunetto also serves as Mitchell Memorial Library’s administrator of systems.
“(Grant funding) is very beneficial for us and assists in our (public relations) efforts,” he said. “We’re trying to bring in people not only from across the state, but also from across the country. We use the funds to advertise, and those types of advertisements are not cheap.”
“It’s all about putting behinds in seats and bodies in beds,” SAAC President Robin Fant said. “Most things we do are tied back to grants or scholarships. (With Sponsorship Program funding), we use the money to directly seed attracting visitors. If you can develop an event and make it self-sustaining, then you’ve got a good shot at attracting tourists year after year.”