By Mary Alice Murphy
At a Tuesday evening special meeting, the Silver City Town Council awarded lodgers' tax funding to 11 groups.
Each applicant had an opportunity to expand and explain the application to the councilors, with questions taken from council members and members of the Lodgers' Tax Advisory Board.
Mayor Michael Morones explained at the beginning of the meeting that the funding comes from a tax borne by people who stay in the town's lodging facilities. The funds are for advertising, publicizing of events and promoting tourism in the town. An advisory board makes recommendations to the council on how to spend the funds.
Sandra Hicks of the advisory board said the members have an evaluation form to make sure that everything in the application is addressed. "We look for metrics, a budget that shows you are viable and how you are going to spend the money. Several of us own lodgings and we look at the numbers, as well as anecdotal reports of the impact of an event. The applications are becoming much better, giving us the information we want. My philosophy is that it's not just special events, but the things that keep people interested in visiting Silver City."
Morones noted that two of the five board members are lodging owners, two are in the tourism industry and one is at-large. "We know the applications have been a work in progress. We ask those present to present their case."
No one was present to talk about the Silver City Fiber Arts Festival.
Cecilia Bell of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society said she had worked hard on the proposal. "We have year-round tours, and if someone wants to take a 9:30 a.m. tour on a Saturday morning, they are in a bed in Silver City the night before. Aug. 23 is our birthday and will include an evening Chautauqua. Fort Bayard Days is a three-day event from Sept. 18-20."
Councilor Cynthia Bettison said the tour information was separate in the proposal. "On your rack cards, does it say partially paid for by lodgers' tax? You've requested $500 for certain tours."
Bell said the organization had already put in ads.
Hicks said she would like to see a tally of where the visitors come from for the tours.
Copper Country Cruizers was represented by Pam Eley. "We always have many cars from outside the area to our Run for Copper Country Show each year. Every participant also receives a T-shirt paid for by lodgers' tax with a note on the shirt saying that."
Faye McCalmont of the Mimbres Region Arts Council said the organization is 34 years old. "We have an annual performance schedule, a folk series, and the youth mural program. We partner with other organizations and concentrate our lodgers' tax expenditures on the cultural events."
Lucy Whitmarsh, board president, and Timothy Brown, Silver City MainStreet manager spoke on behalf of the organization. "We promote historic downtown from Tucson to El Paso. We are located in the Murray Ryan Visitor Center. For part of our campaign we would like to drive people to the Visitor Center. First, because studies show that if people go to a visitor center, they are more likely to spend the night. We need to upgrade our sign directing people to the center," Brown said.
Bettison said she noted that the proposal was missing total funds, matching funds and the source of the matching funds.
"I did not complete the application, so I was not aware it was incomplete," Whitmarsh said. "Yes, I did sign it."
Bettison said she presumed the total advertising budget was $10,000, with $3,000 for the sign. "Is this a quote for replacing the sign?"
Whitmarsh said it was not a quote, but a result of research. Bettison also asked why there was a remainder of $751 from last year's lodgers' tax.
"When we tried to do a budget for the application, we found out we did not allocate correctly, so we did not spend it all," Whitmarsh said.
Councilor Guadalupe Cano said if the group planned to continue to apply, "I ask for a tally of where visitors come from."
Luanne Brooten spoke for the San Vicente Artists. "We are asking for funding for a 32-page full-color guide. We are aiming to put a calendar of all the larger events in the booklet. The San Vicente Artists have three shows and a website kept up-to-date year-round. The guide costs $5,000 a year. We got $3,000 last year."
Bettison said lodgers' tax could not pay for shows, just the guide and advertising. "You have no data telling us where people are coming from. That would strengthen your proposal if your member galleries keep statistics as well as website data."
Hicks said the advisory board needs more specific data. "In your past guides, you had information of what galleries carried art or jewelry or whatever. The new guide has less information."
Brooten said the group would try to add the information back into the guide for next year and would try to collect numbers and places from galleries.
Cano also noted errors on the back page and asked that the guide be edited.
Brooten said four people had edited it.
Bettison said if MRAC could collect data at events, member galleries should have a sign up sheet asking people where they come from. "It supports your argument."
Lee Stockman spoke for the Grant County Rolling Stones. "We have been producing the Gem and Mineral Show for 30 years. This is our 31st year. Last year we had better than 3,000 people come through, Vendors, many of whom come from out of town stay in hotels. We've been using lodgers' tax to advertise locally, in Albuquerque, El Paso and Tucson. Last year, we asked them where they came from and where they stayed. Fifty percent come from Grant County and the rest mostly from Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, with quite a few from California."
"You've provided incredible information," Bettison said. "It's a great event. But your total cost of the event is less than the request and matching."
"Our profits are used for local scholarships, we pay the Socorro Museum for a November show and we donate to Search & Rescue in case any of our members ever get lost," Stockman said. "Fortunately no member has needed it."
Hicks commended the group for not only bringing people to town, but "it's important you provide for local folks, too."
The Silver City Gallery Association was represented by Lois Duffy. "We have reorganized this year and we're now the Silver City Art Association, because we have added studios and artists, and have taken over the Weekend at the Galleries in October. We also decided to come out with a classy booklet, with no dates, but will include the galleries, studios and artists. Half the booklets will go to regional visitors centers."
Hicks said she hoped they would keep the red circles. "That's the biggest marketing tool we have," Duffy confirmed the circles would stay.
Michelle Geels spoke on behalf of the Tour of the Gila. "Social media is our best marketing tool. We have hired a firm to take care of it."
Bettison said it seemed expenses had risen exponentially, "with your hiring a PR firm for $30,000 and a Twitter person for $5,000."
Geels said those sending tweets were in cars during the race doing live tweeting. "We found higher-level professionals."
Bettison asked about the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) travel expense.
Geels explained the Tour of the Gila wants to create a UCI women's team. "Although we have an agreement with the men not to pay travel, for the women we would need to pay travel from Europe. SRAM is talking about uppping its sponsorship."
Bettison noted that Silver City is the primary sponsor and money is tight this year to which Geels replied that the tour is seeking more sponsorships.
"Your proposal is very thorough and you're all doing a great job," Bettison said.
Hicks said she heard anecdotally that there were fewer people in town this year. Geels confirmed there were fewer racers and fewer spectators.
George Julian Dworin, Silver City Arts and Cultural District director, thanked everyone, including the group's partners, which include the New Mexico Tourism Department and other arts and cultural districts throughout the state. "We also had 39 local businesses, who bought into cooperative advertising. We have a commitment to sense of place and quality of life." He said this year was a banner year for Silver City in media exposure, including print, radio and television, as well as in social media and web marketing, which are the most cost effective. Because the demographic being targeted carries not only a mobile phone, but also laptops and tablets, the focus will continue. "The Tour of the Gila woman who tweeted had 7,000 followers. New to the proposal is event marketing. If we want people to come to our events, we need to promote ourselves at their events. Take like-minded interests and align them to promote one another's events."
Hicks said she would prefer the cooperative ads be not just graphics, but also something about Silver City. Dworin pointed out that each series included the same subjects, such as art, wilderness, architecture, food, to tell Silver City's story in photos. "We also promote events."
Hicks said it bothered her that the events were not in order to which Dworin said she was not the first to say that. Hicks said the group's goal numbers were not in the proposal.
Dworin said he would be giving a report to the Town Council on the full year-over-year numbers.
Allyson Siwik promoted the Gila River Festival. "This is our 10th year celebrating America's first wilderness river. People are coming from all over for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act to the Gila, the first wilderness designated by the act. As the Gila is the last wild, free-flowing river and drains from the wilderness, we will have Dave Foreman presenting, as well as birding, hiking and bus tours. New Mexico Magazine will feature the Gila River Festival in its September issue. High Country News next week will have magazines with a Gila River article available at a conference. We have found that radio spots are really working for us, so we have taken ads out of print and put them into radio. People are telling us how they hear about the festival."
Hicks said the group should go more into social media and web rather than mailing out cards about the festival.
Siwik said 50 to 100 people come from out of town for the festival, and "we do have a Facebook page."
Bettison asked that the festival folks talk to the lodgings and find out more demographics of those who attend the celebration. "Perhaps a questionnaire or survey, with an incentive to go online to capture the campers."
"We hand out evaluation forms at the end of every event," Siwik said. "And one of the questions asks where they are staying."
Bell noted that the first week after Easter in 2015, a three-day event/conference by the Oregon-California Trail Organization would be held in Silver City.
After a break and an executive session, the awards were announced.
Silver City Fiber Arts Festival — $2,000
Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society — $2,000
Copper Country Cruizers — $2,000
Mimbres Region Arts Council — $34,000
Silver City MainStreet —$12,500, with a requirement to replace the sign
San Vicente Artists — $4,000
Grant County Rolling Stones — $3,000
Tour of the Gila — $30,000
Silver City Gallery Association — $3,500
Silver City Arts and Cultural District —$104,500
Gila River Festival — $2,500.
Morones recommended that each awardee be required to present semi-annual reports around Sept. 30 and March 30 to the Town Council through town staff.