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Bend Cultural Tourism Grants On Hold 

With tourism revenues at an all-time low, Visit Bend cuts grants to cultural organizations and nonprofits

Visit Bend formally announced Thursday that it's placing a hold on future Bend Cultural Tourism Fund grants—a significant funding source for some of the most-visible events and artistic endeavors in Central Oregon.

The fund is supported through a transient room tax on hotels and vacation rentals, and due to social distancing measures—and restrictions from the city and state—TRT collections are at an all-time low.

click to enlarge Artwork in Tin Pan Alley in downtown Bend, funded through the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund. - VISIT BEND
  • Visit Bend
  • Artwork in Tin Pan Alley in downtown Bend, funded through the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund.

All remaining final grant payments for the current year will still be dispersed, but applications for both the Catalyst and Marketing grants are now suspended, according to Kevney Dugan, President and CEO of Visit Bend. Visit Bend will re-open the application period as soon as funding is available.

In 2019, the fund awarded a total of $200,000, divided between BendFilm, the High Desert Museum, Oregon WinterFest, Out Central Oregon (Winter PrideFest), ScaleHouse (Bend Design talks and workshops), Sunriver Music Festival, Tower Theatre Foundation, World Muse, Bend Photo Tours and the Central Oregon Film Office.

The original deadline for this year's applications was April 24. Visit Bend will hold all previously submitted applications until funding allows the application process to re-open.

“I want to stress this is a postponement, not a cancellation, however a new deadline will not be set until there is more certainty around numbers,” wrote Laurel MacMillan, the BCTF’s grant administrator, in a letter to the BCTF’s Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

The occupancy rate (at vacation rentals and hotels) in Bend on Saturday, March 28 was 15.6%, according to Visit Bend. Many public schools and colleges in Oregon have spring break during the third and fourth weeks of March, so occupancy rates are usually approximately 85-90% this time of year, Dugan said.

The BCTF is funded using 7.5% of Visit Bend’s total annual public funding it receives from the City of Bend through transient room tax collections. In 2013, voters in Bend passed Ballot Measure 9-94, which increased transient room taxes to 10.4%. Under Oregon State law, when cities increase their TRT, 70% of the extra revenues must go towards tourism promotion, as opposed to a city’s general fund or other expenses. Tourism advocates sold the measure to voters by promising to use the extra funds for cultural marketing during Bend’s shoulder seasons. When it passed, Visit Bend created the BCTF to help local organizations attract visitors in the spring and fall.

Now with the future uncertain as a result of the growing novel coronavirus pandemic, the local tourism industry is experiencing a wave of layoffs and cutbacks due to tanking revenues.

On March 20, Visit Bend changed the messaging on its homepage to read, “Stay home. Stay Safe. Your Bend vacation can wait.” Then on March 27, Eric King, Bend city manager, released an order discouraging tourist travel.

On April 1, Deschutes County released an order prohibiting short-term rental stays unless for the purposes of essential travel. The order does not apply to properties within the City of Bend, but is another example of how social distancing orders are affecting the local tourism economy.

Next week, the Source will explore the larger economic repercussions of social distancing on local cultural organizations.

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