City council discusses helping tourism festivals with ARPA funds

·3 min read

Lincoln City Council members will be voting at their Feb. 7 meeting on whether to allocate money to three groups that bring tourists to Lincoln.

The discussion at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting evolved around how to best use the American Rescue Plan Act money the city received from the federal government.

Mayor Tracy Welch explained to the council the idea stemmed from a conversation with Seth Goodman who organizes the Balloons over Route 66 event.

“In the past businesses would provide sponsorship of the events, but due to COVID-19 some of the businesses might not be able to sponsor so we thought it would justify using those funds to keep the events going.The breakdown of the request is to provide $40,000 of ARPA funds with balloons getting $15,000, barbecue getting $15,000 and swigs getting $10,000.This is not a long term commitment for the city, it is simply for three years,” said Welch who added after researching it was acceptable to do this with the funds.

More: Two tourism icons in Logan County receive grants

Welch said he would like to see each group be transparent and accountable for the money that is being spent.

“Each component would have to set up an account. I also think they need to sign an agreement accepting the fact that they would be required to undergo an audit,” said Welch.

Rick Hoefle, representing Ward 4, said he was happy with the way the money was being used.

“I think it’s great that we are using ARPA money and not city funds. I’m fully on board,” said Hoefle.

Ward 1 alderman Steve Parrott asked what was spent in the previous years.

Kevin Bateman, Ward 3 alderman and a driving force in the Pigs and Swigs event, said he was speaking as a citizen.

Hot air balloons travel over Route 66 in Lincoln.
Hot air balloons travel over Route 66 in Lincoln.

“We spent $14,000 to run the event. Each year we’d like to grow it. We already have an accountant and there are two people that are required to sign the checks. We have learned from the chamber,” said Bateman referring to the Lincoln-Logan County Chamber of Commerce stopping operations in 2017.

“Eleven years ago we started planning a year before the event. With COVID we didn’t have time to fund raise and so now we are hurting. I just don’t want to see this go away,” said Bateman.

Welch asked Seth Goodman, who was sitting in the crowd to comment on the status of the balloon portion of the weekend.

“Last year was about $11,000 and it doesn’t include the money that pilots normally get. Most festivals have show money and or prize money. Last year we had 32 pilots and the ones who showed up came to just keep this event going. We need to start offering them more incentives, if we don’t start then we won’t see the number of pilots coming to Lincoln,” said Goodman.

Bateman commended Goodman for putting the balloons back in the air.

“It was amazing to see the out of state plates. I can only speak to my launch site on Campus View but I know there were people who came from Peoria and Quincy so I commend Goodman for his effort,” said Bateman.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Wanda Rohlfs asked if the groups could submit a budget so they could see the needs of the various events.

Goodman said the budget depends on the amount of pilots that plan to come to the event.

“The expenses are around lodging and food for the pilots,” said Goodman who added the event is one of the larger ones with over 30 pilots and Lincoln is at capacity due to limited open spaces to launch.

Welch and the council agreed to place this on the agenda for the voting meeting.

This article originally appeared on Lincoln Courier: City to use ARPA funds to help keep festival going