Aberdeen visitor center won’t get tourism grant

MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners approved $81,800 in tourism grant requests this week, but left out funds that would have gone to support the visitor information center in Aberdeen.

Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. had submitted a grant request seeking $20,000 for next year’s operating costs — the same amount they’ve requested and received from the county’s tourism tax fund for the past few years. It’s unclear what the lack of funding will do to the visitor center.

Also not receiving money this year are the visitor centers on the South Beach and Lake Quinault. Fair Director Mike Bruner said that a change in state law allows only groups operating in government-owned buildings to get the tourism tax dollars used to fund visitor information centers. That law change automatically disqualified most visitor centers in the area.

“In the past, there has been apprehension about spending money on visitor centers because there’s an idea that funds we get from the tourism tax should be used to get people to Grays Harbor rather than to have someone come into a visitor center when they get here,” Bruner said. “Most people already know what they’re doing and where they’re going when they get here.”

In 2012, the South Beach Visitor Center received $10,000 and the Lake Quinault Museum Visitor Information Center received $5,183. This year, Bruner said neither group applied for funds “likely because they saw the writing on the wall.”

Because Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. operates inside a county-owned building, they could have qualified for funding, but a county-appointed group called the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee advised against awarding the Aberdeen visitor center any funds, according to documents turned over by the county commissioners.

The problem, Bruner said, is that the grant application was not clear enough to delineate when the visitor information services end and when chamber functions begin.

Tim Gibbs, executive director and CEO of Greater Grays Harbor Inc., said that it’s not yet clear what the grant denial will mean for the visitor center or if they’ll be able to re-apply.

The center receives $2,000 from the city of Hoquiam and $15,000 from the city of Aberdeen, which is down from original requests of $20,000 from Aberdeen.

“Our services are worth three to four times what we get back from tourism funds,” Gibbs said. “Maybe we’ll be able to apply for funds again. This is the first time I’ve been made aware of the situation.”

Gibbs said that thousands of people stop by the visitor center, which has signs on three sides of the building telling tourists where to stop to get information.

“Quite often we’re the first and only folks people talk to,” Gibbs said. “We get one chance to make a first impression and we’re the southern-most stop on the Olympic Peninsula.”

County Commissioner Herb Welch said Wednesday that he hopes the situation can still be worked out with the visitor information center.

The commissioners also denied $10,145 in fund requests to the Lake Quinault area for website operations and portable toilets because the expenses weren’t directly tied to festivals and $10,000 in grant requests were denied to the Razor Clam Festival and Toast the Harbor in Ocean Shores, specifically because Ocean Shores keeps its own tourism tax dollars and doesn’t contribute to the county’s fund.

Another $21,000 in grant requests were denied because groups did not have clear non-profit status, including funds requested by the Our Aberdeen mural restoration project, McCleary Bear Festival, the Grayland Players, the Cranberry Heritage Group and the Rolling Thunder tribute bringing a scaled version of the Vietnam Wall to the fairgrounds next summer.

Plenty of groups did get funds this year, adding up to $81,800 in approvals.

For instance, grants will go to promote the Chocolate on the Beach Festival, the 7th St. Theatre classic movie series, the Wine & Seafood Festival in Elma, the Shorebird Festival in Hoquiam, the Splash Festival in Aberdeen, the On Track Art Festival in Hoquiam, the farm fresh map put out by the WSU Extension Office, the Grayland Open for jet skis and plenty of other activities.