Three innovative grants approved

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners Monday approved $12,000 in donations from the Innovative Grant Fund for local projects.

County officials approved $5,000 for a wrestling tournament, $5,000 for the West Virginia SSAC Girls State High School softball tournament and $2,000 for a cancer awareness fundraising event.

“The West Virginia Women’s Softball Association and duals wrestling tournaments each brought in 450 rooms for overnight stays last year and they are funded each year,” said Cindy Sheppard, who with Mark Lewis, chief executive officer/president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, presented the proposals to the commission on Monday.

The softball tourney is hosted by the city of Vienna. It is scheduled for May 27-28 with a projected attendance of from 4,000 to 5,000.

The West Virginia duals is a multi-state wrestling tourney involving high school, middle school and elementary teams. It is co-directed by Parkersburg High and Parkersburg South High schools.

It will be held two weekends in 2015. Attendance is projected at more than 3,000.

The Vandalia-Con event projected its attendance for next year’s May 22-24 event at 400. Lewis said they are requesting funds to use for advertising/marketing the event. The Vandalia event was a Steampunk-themed cancer awareness/fundraiser event held in Parkersburg for the first time last year. The event seeks to raise money for breast and cervical cancer screening. It is coordinated by Shelly Dusic, health information specialist with the West Virginia Breast Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Last year’s event, held in May, was called “Vandalia – Saving the Mothers of Invention.”

The Innovative Grant fund is made up of 8.5 percent of the county hotel and motel occupancy taxes. It was created when the county raised the hotel occupancy tax in 2008 from 3 to 6 percent.

The grants are offered on a competitive basis. To qualify for the funds, the event or project must draw visitors to the area to increase hotel stays. As part of the stipulations for the grant, event organizers are asked to provide documentation of increased numbers of visitors to the area as the result of their event.

“All three are well-worth the investment. But when this program was originally started it was with the hope that we would be able to help these events get started then they would be able to fund themselves later on. Some of these projects have been getting funds every year,” said commission President Wayne Dunn said.

He asked if there was any hope these events could be self-sustaining in the future.

“One of the concerns is that they need help to maintain the facilities, some have been around awhile, but we trying to keep them here because they are facing competition with other areas and newer facilities,” Lewis said of the two sports tournaments. “They bring people from out of town and stay here overnight which helps our hoteliers.”

“The Vandalia event was new last year, that was the first time for that event, she reported they had 66 rooms. We feel the event has potential to grow,” Lewis said.

“Where possible, we would like to see them start to move toward self-sufficiency or at least ask for less. Some of the events raise a lot of money and they should have an ongoing reserve,” Dunn said.