At the February 11th meeting, the Leon County Board of County Commissioners voted to accept the approval of the Cultural Facilities Matching Grant Program. The program will fund awards in the amount of $461,495 in order to continue the County’s support of the cultural arts program and the continued growth in the tourism economy.
This initiative is recommended by the Council on Culture and Arts (COCA) and the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to continue the advances of the FY2017-FY2021 Strategic Plan Bold Goal. That is to “grow the five-year tourism economy to $5 billion,” as well as, to grow its “diversity, competitiveness, and economic impact.”
The grant will be awarded to the top three candidates. The Goodwood Museum and Gardens Incorporation will receive $133,000 for preservation of its Water Tower. Tallahassee Community College Foundation will receive $104,995 for renovations to its Hurst Museum and Learning Center, which houses and displays its permanent art collection. Lastly, the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science Incorporation will receive $223,500 to aid in the purchase of about 69.3 acres of property, which will secure the museums eventual plans for expansion and transformation.
The Funding Process
The Tourist Development Taxes, or TDT, along with a combination of general revenue is the means by which Leon County supports the cultural arts in the community. In 2014, after the County received the Cultural Plan update, the Cultural Facilities Matching Grant Program was created; and funds from the TDT, a ¼ cent, was redirected to increase financial support to improve the needs of local cultural organizations. During that time the ¼ cent TDT, produced roughly $250,000 yearly and continues to increase.
In June 2019, the Council on Culture and Arts received five qualified applications for consideration for the grant. The applications came from the Challenger Learning Center, Goodwood Museum and Gardens Incorporation, LeMoyne Art Foundation, Tallahassee Community College Foundation, and the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science Incorporation. The panel for the Cultural Facilities Matching Grant Program reviewed and scored the applicants and made recommendations for the top three candidates.
The recommendations were then advanced to the TDC for approval, where discrepancies were found on a portion of the Tallahassee Community College Foundation’s application, causing this portion to be ineligible for TDT funding. Furthermore, the TDC became aware of additional concerns with COCA’s applicant evaluation and scoring process, the complaints made by staff and applicants alike.
The TDC insisted that COCA resolve the issues regarding the evaluating and scoring of applications, the clarification of application requirements, and the matter of TDT funding eligibility. After great consideration of how to handle the situation, COCA excluded the unqualified portion of the Tallahassee Community College Foundation’s application, however, they did not rescore the applications, nor did they reassess any other concerns made by applicants. Therefore the top three considerations remained the same and the suggested funding was modified upward to grant 100 percent of the funding requests.
Commissioner Dozier voted in favor of the motion, however she stated she has had “concerns for years about the grant process” and has suggested it be revised. She feels that since the concerns came to light during this process
COCA made extensive reviews of the applicants and had the results thoroughly vetted, she believes the outcome at this time is fair. Furthermore, she knows moving forward the process will be altered for future grants and these changes are a “step in the right direction.” Whereas Commissioner Maddox did not vote in favor, he felt there were several “instances where the application process was unfair to some of the applicants.” After much debate the motion was passed with a 4 -3 vote.
A total of $1.2 million, including the $461,495, presented in this item, has been “awarded and invested in the capital improvements of local cultural organizations and venues,” since the beginning of the grant program.