FARGO - The Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau has approved $500,000 in relief payments to F-M area hotels and $400,000 in matching-grant funds for local nonprofit tourism attractions.
The board voted on the measures Tuesday, May 5, to relieve some of the economic hardships faced by those businesses and organizations, CVB President and CEO Charley Johnson said.
“This is directly tied to the (COVID-19) pandemic,” which has caused severe and long-lasting damage to the hospitality industry, Johnson said.
The funds will be pulled from the CVB’s capital reserve fund, which is funded by a lodging tax collected by hotels in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.
The hotel relief payments will be pro-rated to the amount of lodging tax each hotel collected and remitted to their respective cities during the 2019 calendar year, Johnson said.
The vote approving the hotel payments was 6-1, with three hoteliers recusing themselves, Johnson said.
The matching grant fund is targeted toward nonprofit local attractions such as Plains Art Museum, Bonanzaville, Red River Zoo, Fargo Theatre, Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, or the Fargo Air Museum. Each attraction can apply for a grant that will match up to $50,000 in fundraising on their part.
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The qualifying matching funds must be pledged after March 20, with the grant program open until Aug. 1, Johnson said. Approved attractions may receive monthly payments during the program period as the matching funds are pledged. Guidelines for grant applications will be forwarded to qualifying attractions, and the CVB board will make the final decision on each application and grant amount.
“I know a lot of them have already started fundraising,” Johnson said.
The grants plan for local attractions was approved on a 10-0 vote, Johnson said.
Johnson said the CVB’s reserve fund has about $2.6 million in it.
Johnson said he wants to be sure that the fund has at least $1 million in it by the end of the next fiscal year, which runs Sept 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021.
The CVB’s revenue is directly tied to hotel lodging tax collections and “obviously our current revenue has taken a huge hit” as hotel operations have slowed greatly with the pandemic’s onset in the region.
F-M area hotel occupancy rates were about 19%t for the week ended April 25, and even lower in the weeks preceding, he said. The normal occupancy rate is 50-55%.
“So you can see that this sector is devastated,” Johnson said.
Johnson had originally proposed the aid be made as loans, but he said the CVB board decided that the money made to attractions should be made as grants. The board wanted to emphasize fundraising versus having organizations be focused on having to pay back borrowed funds.
“We’ve got a smart board of directors,” Johnson said. “I’m proud to work for a board that’s willing to step up and use money from its reserves when the chips are down."
Johnson said the CVB has also tried to help bars and restaurants, early on setting up a social media program that gave away 60 $50 gift cards usable at local bars and restaurants.
The CVB also just completed a Hospitality for Healthcare program run in conjunction with the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Community Partnership, and the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation. Funds were raised to provide a $15 discount per order at participating restaurants for health care workers and first responders.
Johnson said the program will have pumped more than $40,000 into the local restaurant economy in one week.