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Awards up to $7,500 can go to businesses as well as nonprofits and public entities.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Festivalgoers enjoy balloons lit up agaist an evening sky during the Night Glow of Tigard's Festival of Balloons, one of Washington County's annual tourism draws.If you've got a project or an event you're hoping will bring visitors from elsewhere to your community, the Washington County Visitors Association has a pot of money it's looking to give away.

The association recently announced it is starting a "small grants" program, which will disburse up to $7,500 to organizations and businesses that apply. The main criteria is that the money has to be used for something that will benefit tourism in Washington County.

"It's a pilot program," Carolyn McCormick, the association's president and chief executive officer, explained. "The small grant program came about because we've had so many people contacting our office looking for money to help augment an existing festival or a new festival or small projects. So we thought we'd try for one year to see if, in fact, we could actually push those tax dollars into the community and try to grow events and projects."

The Washington County Visitors Association receives much of its money from Washington County's transient lodging tax — often referred to as a "hotel tax," although it's also assessed on stays in Airbnbs and other "non-traditional" overnight accommodations.

The association already provides grants for tourism-related projects, but they're considerably larger in size — a minimum of $100,000, according to McCormick — and they're only awarded to support capital projects, such as installing public art or interpretive signage to promote visitation.

For-profit businesses can also apply through the small grants program. The large grants are limited to public entities and nonprofit organizations.

"It's a big difference," McCormick said. "But there needs to be some kind of a trigger, no matter who we're going to award those dollars to — a qualifier to make sure that those dollars are going to not just subsidize an already-existing event, but actually grow it."

One of the ideas the Washington County Visitors Association has been pushing is expanding one-day events and festivals to be spread across two days instead.

"At the end of the day, everything we do, we try to encourage somebody to stay in a paid accommodation," McCormick said. "And that, of course, is because that's what funds us … and also, when somebody's staying overnight in a hotel, they spend more money than if it's just a person day-tripping to the area."

Applications for the small grants program are due Oct. 1.

"It's a test," McCormick said. "It's going to be interesting to see how many folks apply (and) how many are really qualified."

For more information or to find application materials, visit the association's website.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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