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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum reopened in June 2020 with runs of its Missionary Ridge Local lead by steam engine 4501. The TVRM will receive $50,000 this year in a culture, education and arts grant from the Chattnaooga Tourism Co.

Chattanooga's biggest tourism promotion agency is doubling the amount of grant money provided to local attractions, businesses and event planners for culture, heritage and arts programs this year as tourism rebounds from the pandemic slowdown over the past couple of years.

The Chattanooga Tourism Company is awarding $605,500 to 28 local partners through the second round of the Cultural Tourism Advancement (CTA) Grant. The selected agencies, which are receiving anywhere from $2,500 up to $50,000 each for projects that help promote Chattanooga and attract visitors to the Scenic City, were selected from among 39 applications that collectively requested $1.3 million for events, enhancements and exhibits planned in the next year.

Last year in the first year of the cultural and arts grant program, the tourism agency provided $302,500 to 26 local agencies.

"This program is a great collaborative opportunity for us to support our partners in enhancing their offerings for our community's economic and social prosperity," Barry White, CEO and president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said in an announcement of the new grants. "The travel and tourism industry is a vital economic driver for Hamilton County, welcoming 15.6 million visitors annually, and we strive to ensure a constant pulse of positive and diverse experiences to excite the traveler's imagination in finding their way to Chattanooga."

White said the arts, culture and heritage of Chattanooga help make the Scenic City distinctive and appealing to both residents and visitors. When the Chattanooga Tourism Co. developed a new strategic plan three years ago about how to attract more tourists to Chattanooga, support for the arts and culture of the community was identified as one of the new missions of the tourism promotion agency.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the effort in 2020 for a year, but the Chattanooga Tourism Co. began making grants last summer and plans to award grants for local events, programs and exhibits every year using a portion of its hotel tax collections.

The grants were initially pushed in 2018 by Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who has been critical of the tourism agency receiving all of the 4% hotel room tax in Hamilton County and urged the Chattanooga Tourism Co., formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau, to allocate a portion of its tax money to support artists and local arts and cultural events.

"It' encouraging that they are giving these arts grants, but I still don't think they are giving enough," Boyd said in a telephone interview Friday evening. "I don't think that the tourism company needs any more than $5 million for its own operations, which is the resolution I put forward years ago and unfortunately didn't pass."

The Chattanooga Tourism Co. has a $12.5 million budget for 2022, which is largely funded by $10.3 million of lodging taxes paid by visitors who pay Hamilton County's 4% lodging tax to stay at local hotels and short-term vacation rental properties. The agency also receives another $2.2 million from grants, partnerships and private revenue sources.

Hannah Hammon, the public relations manager for the Chattanooga Tourism Co , said the agency plans on awarding grants of about $600,000 a year in the future.

The culture, education and arts grants this year were awarded to the following organizations:

* Association for Visual Arts, 4 Bridges Arts Festival - $15,000

* Bessie Smith Cultural Center - $12,500

* Chattanooga Presents - $4.500

* Chattanooga Segway Tours - $5,000

* Chattanooga Theatre Center - $7,500

* Chattanooga Zoo - $35,000

* Creative Discovery Museum - $50,000

* Davis Wayne's - $20,000

* Friends of the Festival, Riverfront Nights - $5,000

* Gate 11 Distillery - $24,000

* High Point Climbing - $30,000

* Hunter Museum of American Art - $40,000

* Lookout Mountain Conservancy - $20,000

* National Medal of Honor Heritage Center - $20,000

* Oddstory Brewing Company & Taproom - $20,000

* Outshine Adventures - $2,500

* Sculpture Fields at Montague Park - $5,000

* Songbirds Foundation - $32,500

* SoundCorps - $17,500

* Splash Summer Arts Festival - $6,000

* Stove Works - $5,000

* String Theory - $3,500

* Tennessee River Gorge Trust - $40,000

* Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum - $50,000 (multi-year is $100,000)

* The Company Lab - $5,000

* The Hot Chocolatier - $20,000

* The Land Trust for Tennessee - $50,000

* The Pop-Up Project - $10,000.

Each year, Hamilton County hosts over 15 million visitors who collectively spend $1.5 billion in our community. On an average day, that's 43,000 visitors spending $4.1 million in our community, including 15,000 of those visitors staying overnight on a typical day in one the county's hotels

"A healthy visitor economy is imperative to the lifestyle we enjoy and what makes Chattanooga the special place we all know and love," White said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow on Twitter at @dflessner1

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