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Tourism commission approves grants

LAWRENCE PIERCE| Gazette file photo

Staff writer

Tourism Commissioners Thursday approved more than $500,000 in tourism advertising matching grants -- and decried the lack of funding for future grants.

Commission Chairman Oshel Craigo noted that in its heyday, the fund received as much as $24 million a year from an automatic allocation of state Lottery profits.

This year, the fund will receive $6.2 million -- with the first $4.2 million committed to the state Courtesy Patrol, along with $126,000 committed to state parks.

“The facts are, we’ve got no money,” he told commissioners.

Also this year, the Legislature changed the tourism advertising fund from being an automatic transfer of Lottery profits to a budget bill line-item that has to be approved by the Legislature each year.

“We absolutely got neutered,” Craigo said. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.”

Last month, commissioners voted that half of any available matching funds will go to the state’s four racetrack casinos, leaving just $938,000 available for advertising matching grants for all other tourist attractions and events in the state for the budget year.

Craigo said it is imperative that the commission work with the Legislature to come up with a way to restore tourism advertising funding.

“We’re at the mercy of our delegates and senators, and the governor,” he said.

Also during Thursday’s commission meeting:

| Joe Black, Tourism research analysis, said hotel/motel occupancy rates statewide were up 4.7 percent in June, compared to June 2013. From January to June, occupancy rates are up 2.7 percent, compared to the same period last year.

“Does that reflect on the impact of the water crisis may be going away?” Commissioner Steve White asked.

Black answered that he thought so, although he said the division’s contract with Smith Travel Research provides occupancy rates statewide, not for individual cities or counties.

However, Commissioner Rick Atkinson, who is director of Yeager Airport and a member of the Charleston Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, said occupancy rates in Charleston are up more than 0.5 percent for the January-to-June period.

“Occupancy for Charleston this year is up slightly,” he said, noting that’s despite the Jan. 9 chemical leak that left the city’s water supply undrinkable for several days.

| Amy Schuler Goodwin, newly appointed deputy Commerce secretary and Tourism commissioner, said the division is in talks to conduct the first survey research regarding state tourism in 11 years.

“Do we feel like its time to cut some expenses here, and do research? Yes we do,” she said.

| Advertising matching grants approved Thursday include: Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, $46,000; Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, $216,969; Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, $21,882 for the Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival; Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino, $116,337; Mardi Gras Casino, $37,138; Wheeling Island Casino, $66,075; I-77 Raceway Park, $7,500 for the Hillbilly 100 race; Cabins at Pine Haven, $5,625; Ceredo Kenova Autumnfest, $2,466; West Virginia Hillbilly Days, $1,477; West Virginia Pumpkin Festival, $5,000.

Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.

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