City of Marfa awards hotel occupancy tax grants, seeks bids for museum repairs 

MARFA — Marfa City Council recently approved hotel occupancy tax (HOT) grant applications in a series of two meetings to fund events occurring from April through September 2023.

HOT grants are awarded twice annually, with council approving the first round for this fiscal year in late October. Grants come from $700,000 the city budgets to receive in HOT revenue, and are allocated to three major categories: arts and culture, historic preservation and advertising. There is also some money allocated towards sporting events that bring in out-of-town visitors. 

Per state law, the city is required to spend HOT funds on more tourism promotion. However, there are current bills being discussed by the Texas Legislature that would allow municipalities to expand use of the tax in order to include infrastructure upgrades, like street repairs — a move City Manager Mandy Roane has voiced support for. 

For this budget cycle, the city allocated a total of $35,000 for arts and culture promotion, $41,000 for historic preservation, $4,031 for sports, and $20,000 for advertising reimbursements. 

In total, that amounts to around $100,000, or roughly 14% of HOT revenue into the grant program. The remaining funds are used to support salaries for the director of tourism and Marfa Visitor Center staff, utilities and building maintenance of the Visitor’s Center (USO), the city’s advertising budget — $100,000 — and more. This year, historic preservation expenses accounted for $185,000 of HOT revenue. 

Roane said in total the HOT grant committee received $61,000 in requests from local arts organizations but was limited to the current budget of $17,500 this grant cycle. In the end, $3,000 each was awarded to Agave Festival Marfa, Marfa Invitational and Viva Big Bend, $2,000 each was awarded to CineMarfa, Maintenant and Ballroom Marfa, $1,500 was awarded to Saint Mary’s Church for a bazaar and $1,000 was awarded to In Front Of Us film series. 

In historic preservation grants, council voted to approve $10,000 for the Marfa Lights Festival — considered a historic event since its inception in the late ‘80s — as well as $8,000 for the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. 

For advertising reimbursement grants, $3,500 each was awarded to the Marfa Lights Festival, Viva Big Bend, Marfa Invitational and Ballroom Marfa, $3,000 was awarded to CineMarfa and $2,500 each to Agave Festival Marfa and St. Mary’s Church. 

For sports, the only applicant was the Presidio County Golf Association, who was awarded $2,000 for a sporting event as well as an additional $4,000 in advertising reimbursement. 

The small HOT grant committee consists of Mayor Manny Baeza and Mayor Pro Tem Irma Salgado, and previously included ex-Director of Tourism Abby Boyd. In the public comment portions of each of the council meetings where HOT grants were discussed, Marfa Live Arts Director Jennie Lyn Hamilton expressed frustration over what she felt was the small slice of the HOT tax pie dedicated to arts and culture funding — $17,500 each grant cycle. 

“The majority of [tourists] are coming in for arts and culture events, since Marfa is seen as the arts and culture destination,” said Hamilton. “Frankly, it feels embarrassing that we only have $17,000 right now to fight over, like we’re little rats, for the crumbs.” 

“Without all of these arts and culture events, the whole hospitality infrastructure would fail and we would lose jobs and a lot as a town,” she continued.

Hamilton argued that at least 20% of HOT tax revenue should be allocated for arts and culture grants next budget cycle, and for council to host conversations with arts and culture organizations about the budget. 

Marfa Live Arts did not receive any grant money this cycle, but received a total of $1,000 earlier in the year for arts and culture programming and another $4,000 in advertising reimbursements. 

Later on, Mayor Baeza addressed the matter, stating that this year, arts and culture funding was down in order to funnel more money into the historic preservation pot, which was in dire need of major funds to get long-awaited repairs completed to the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. 

“We’ve had issues with this building for years,” said Baeza. “That’s why we have more money allocated this year so we can fix the Marfa Museum, a historical building.” 

City Manager Roane said next year the city hopes to have more grant dollars to give out to arts and culture organizations, if museum repairs go according to plan this budget cycle. She and Baeza also noted the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department building was given historic preservation funds to see their expansion project come to fruition this year. 

“Next year’s HOT budget, I would think, will be able to look totally different because we’re not going to have the large expenditures from the two buildings,” said Roane. 

Marfa and Presidio County Museum 

City Council also voted recently to put projects to repair the Marfa and Presidio County Museum roof and floor out for bid. Due to recent wind storms, the museum’s roof was severely damaged, said Roane, and would require immediate repair. 

“The shingles are off, there’s water damage on the inside, [we need] to get [repairs] done sooner rather than later,” said Roane.

While some of the funds, around $13,000, for the new roof would be covered by insurance, more money would be required to complete the $28,000 project, she said. Luckily, according to Roane, the money budgeted for the floor slash east wall repair would be sufficient to cover the roof as well. 

The museum’s east-facing adobe wall has been sagging and floors sloping, making certain rooms of the site uninhabitable for visitors, for some time now, but Roane said the city was ready to move forward with a restoration plan after receiving engineering advice from Insights Structures and more. 

The working plan, she explained, was to put new footing on the west side of the east wall, while adding joists to raise up the floor, making it level once again. Mark Morrison, a local contractor and soon-to-be city council member, who removed and helped assess the floor’s damage, suggested a floating floor be installed to help alleviate the load bearing on the crumbling wall. 

“I’m hoping maybe we can put in a new footing and joists and then not and then have the floor floating so that it’s not further deteriorating that wall,” said Roane. 

Museum Board Vice President and Secretary Mary Williams, who was present at the council meeting in which the roof and floor repairs were discussed and put out for bid, voiced support for the initiatives.