Representatives of ArtsinStark, Visit Canton and the local arts community asked Stark County commissioners Monday to approve an agreement that would allocate a share of local hotel taxes to market art events, art exhibitions and performances to out-of-county residents.

CANTON The Stark County commissioners got more specifics Monday on how hotel tax dollars could be spent to promote local art events and performances to out-of-county visitors.

The leaders of Visit Canton and ArtsinStark presented the highlights of 10-year agreement that defines how more than $500,000 a year from last year's hotel bed tax increase would be used.

By state law, the county's portion of hotel bed taxes can only be spent on promoting tourism, and the agreement spells out what the money can be spent on, what it can't be spent on and would require a grant recipient to return the money if it's used for a purpose that's not permitted.

Allyson Bussey, president of Visit Canton, or the Stark County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said all spending would be documented as part of an annual audit by the State Auditor's office.

"We have to approve where every dollar is spent," Bussey later said in an interview. "They have to show us the invoices of where the dollars are spent. And none of these dollars can be used to market in Stark County."

Starting this year

Bussey after the presentation said if the commissioners approve the agreement at its scheduled meeting March 7, initial applications for some of the grants would be due around late April and funds for at least some of the grants would be disbursed by summer.

Stark County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton said she supports the agreement, but she will recuse herself from the vote because she's a board member of both Visit Canton and ArtsinStark.

But the current or future board of commissioners and Visit Canton can end the agreement with cause before it ends in December 2027.

"We believe the arts enrich our souls, but it's not about that," said Robb Hankins, the president and CEO of ArtsinStark. "The time has come to use the arts to enrich the pocketbooks of every community in Stark County."

Several leaders of local organizations called on the commissioners to approve the agreement.

"These bed tax dollars will allows us to invest in marketing a Palace production outside our area, so we too can reap the benefits of ticket sales and income," said Georgia Paxos, executive director of the Canton Palace Theatre.

She later said the Palace spends $4,500 to market a three-day film festival. It lacks the funds to spend the up to $25,000 to promote the event outside the county and in surrounding states.

Canton Ballet Artistic and Executive Director Cassandra Crowley said she did not see any increased attendance for the Canton Ballet's Nutcracker production in December even though it featured a couple members of the New York City Ballet.

"We had no change in attendance, because we couldn't get the word out," she said.

Bed tax hike

Commissioners in October approved doubling the county's hotel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent. The overall hotel tax increased from 12.5 percent to 15.5 percent of the room cost. The hike begin in November. The county last year collected $1.53 million in county hotel taxes.

Besides the county's 6 percent, 3 percent goes to the city or township where the hotel is located, 5.75 percent goes to the state, another 0.5 percent goes to the county to fund criminal justice agencies and 0.25 percent goes to the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority.

By state law, the county's 6 percent goes to Visit Canton, except about $46,000 to cover the county's collection costs.

Under the agreement, 1 percentage point of the tax or a sixth of the county's hotel tax, now roughly $500,000 a year, would fund the marketing of local arts events to tourists.

A committee made up of three representatives of Visit Canton, including Bussey, and two representatives of ArtsinStark, would review grant applications, decide which events' out-of-county marketing to fund and how much funding to provide. Visit Canton's 15-member board would have to approve any grants in excess of $50,000.

The funding would go to:

• About three major events or which Hankins calls "blockbuster shows," over the next 10 years, an example being the "Kimono as Art" exhibition in 2009 at the Canton Museum of Art, which he said led to a significant economic impact.

• Community Partnership Grants of up to $10,000, which would comprise at least 15 percent of the total arts hotel tax allocation up to $550,000 and 30 percent of any available allocation above that. Based on last year's bed tax numbers, that would be about $75,000. The grants are intended for entities other than the major local art institutions. The money, which would have to be applied for on an annual basis, would fund promoting art and cultural events.This program would replace Visit Canton's Community Tourism grants, which in their initial year last year disbursed about $65,000.

• ArtsinStark's own events in the Canton Arts District and at the Cultural Center of the Arts, and marketing of the events geared toward out-of-county visitors, such as its planned "Music Block" event in Canton.

• Arts Support, which would be funding for events and marketing of events by Stark County's major arts organizations, which include the Canton Palace Theatre, Canton Museum of Art, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Canton Ballet, Voices of Canton, Players Guild Theatre and Massillon Museum.

Hankins said his original proposal to use 30 percent of the money to fund the "creation, renovation and maintenance of cultural tourism" was scrapped because state law doesn't allow the use of hotel taxes for that purpose. That would have included helping to pay for an $8 million renovation of the Canton Cultural Center for the Arts.

Bussey said Visit Canton is holding ongoing discussions with developers of the Hall of Fame Village project on whether other hotel bed tax dollars would be allocated to supporting the project or being used as security for the developers to obtain additional loans.

 

Reach Robert Wang at 330-580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP