City of Marfa announces first round of HOT grant recipients

MARFA — Citizens representing local arts, historic and cultural endeavors turned up to a City Council meeting this week to lobby for grant funding for their various projects. 

Twice a year council members hear recommendations from a hotel occupancy tax (HOT) grant committee and award funds in four primary categories: advertising reimbursement, arts and culture, historic preservation and sports. 

The HOT grant committee is currently made up of Mayor Manny Baeza, Mayor Pro Tem Raul Lara and Tourism Director Jennifer Connors. The grant program is funded annually by hotel taxes the city receives and is geared towards “putting heads in beds,” or promoting overnight stays in town. 

This year the city budgeted to receive $700,000 in HOT taxes, but the majority of that money goes towards the overall Tourism and Convention Center budget, which includes salaries, building maintenance for the USO, or Marfa Visitor Center, advertising for publications, brochures and more. 

State law dictates how municipalities can spend HOT tax funds, and while there is ongoing discussion on the local and state level about widening the use to include city infrastructure projects and more, it is currently limited to supporting tourism activities. 

The first round of grants administered is for events taking place between October 1, 2023 and March 30, 2024. This year the city budgeted a total of $35,000 for arts and culture events, $41,000 for historic preservation-related events, $5,000 for sporting events and $20,000 for advertising reimbursements. 

Bob Schwab was present to advocate for the newly-formed nonprofit Friends of Hunter Gym, a group looking to restore the 1941 adobe gym and designated historic landmark on Marfa ISD’s campus that is not currently being used by the district due to the presence of mold. 

Schwab argued that the Hunter Gym restoration will positively impact the local community, preserving an important piece of Marfa’s history, in addition to out-of-towners. He said the group plans to hire local contractors to carry out sorely-needed repairs to the structure, and, once restored, to make the space available for future community-wide and school-related events like an adobe seminar, robotics competitions, sports games and more. 

He acknowledged that the nonprofit was asking for a substantial sum, $30,000, well over the city’s typical historic preservation grant allotment, but said the project will benefit the area economically for years to come. 

“We believe this is going to be a long-term important structure and important activity for Marfa,” said Schwab. “We want you to be a partner with us in this, be part of this process, making sure that we don’t let that building further decay.” 

Pat Keesey of the Marfa Municipal Alliance for Dead Country and Folk Singers was also present at the meeting to explain the group’s desire to host a HOT tax-funded series of performances. 

Keesey explained that the alliance was made up of 50 musicians who have helped raise $30,000 over the past few years for local organizations. He said the alliance’s members were diverse, playing a mixture of Tejano, contemporary punk rock, country and more, and deserved the city’s support for their contributions to Marfa’s musical landscape. 

“If you could support the music community, they’ve already given back, they’ll continue to give back,” said Keesey. 

There promoting his new short film shot in Marfa, Ashes to Ashes, was Clark Childers, who argued forthcoming premieres, one in town and one in Los Angeles, would both bring in visitors and highlight Marfa’s film scene to national audiences. 

“I think we could develop a more thriving film community here if they saw that there was support for more films in Marfa, made by Marfans,” said Childers. 

Last to address City Council members was Martha Stafford of the Marfa and Presidio County Museum. She said the museum was seeking both advertising and historic preservation grants to revise its brochures, hire someone to manage its social media, create an interactive display, turn its side yard into more of a community park and more. 

Before announcing HOT grant recipients, city officials addressed their limitations regarding funding of historic preservation projects at this time, stating the city’s own historic and tourism facility projects took precedence. The city budgeted $100,000 for historic building preservation this cycle, a line item within the tourism and convention center budget. 

City Manager Mandy Roane and Mayor Baeza explained that the USO was in need of a roof repair or possible roof replacement, the museum floor was still being addressed and the Marfa Activities Center gym — which can be rented out and therefore falls under the tourism umbrella — required upgrades. 

“It looks like a lot of the money that we have in historic preservation,” said Baeza. “But I believe we’re going to use every penny this year on working on our three buildings.” 

In advertising reimbursement grants, the city awarded $3,500 to Maintenant and $3,500 to Ballroom Marfa. The Marfa Museum, Marfa Chamber of Commerce’s Little Amal event and Chinati Foundation all applied but were not chosen for advertising reimbursements. 

In arts and culture grants, the city awarded $2,500 to Dara and Prat, $6,500 to Ballroom Marfa, $750 for Marfa Chamber of Commerce’s Little Amal event, $5,000 to Maintenant and $2,250 to the Marfa Municipal Alliance for Dead Country and Folk Singers. Other applicants Friends of Ruidosa Church and film Ashes to Ashes received $0. 

The Marfa100 received $2,500 from sporting events. Under historic preservation, The Chinati Foundation received $10,000, the Marfa Museum received $8,000 and Friends of Hunter Gym received $0. 

Disclosure: Mary Cantrell is a Friends of Hunter Gym board member.