HUDSON — A new program is challenging city residents to reimagine and redefine tourism for the post-coronavirus era.
The Hudson Tourism Board is allocating $50,000 for short-term projects and $100,000 for long-term projects to kickstart the local economy in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown. The board is hoping to crowd-source creative ideas to bolster tourism close to home at a time when most people remain hesitant to travel for the summer holidays.
The program, titled “Project Hudson,” aims to engage directly with the local community and encourage regional tourism, said board member Chris McManus.
Businesses, business associations, nonprofits, cultural organizations and civic groups based in Hudson are eligible to submit proposals. The board will continue accepting applications through the month of July.
The board is funding proposals with two goals in mind: to give organizations and businesses access to funds that could help them stay afloat, and to give community members the opportunity to play an active role in creating safe ways to socialize, said 3rd Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis, chairman of the Tourism Board.
The emphasis will be on funding creative, low-cost projects with the potential to expand, an approach known as “tactical urbanism,” said board member Tamar Adler.
Project Hudson is about experimentation, testing out small ideas to see what works and then using that information as a catalyst for long-term change, Adler said.
“This is a way for the city to express its creative nature and do it in a way that moves us toward an exciting future without huge infrastructure or a big marketing budget,” she said.
Adler, who has been collecting the submissions as they come in, said the board has received a ton of proposals from “people who want to create things that other people will enjoy.”
That sense of community spirit is what Project Hudson aims to cultivate, she said.
“There is a real focus on giving people a sense of fun and delight and something to look forward to,” Adler said.
McManus said he believes the board will be able to fund most, if not all, of the proposals that meet its criteria, which he described as “thoughtful and inclusive.” Proposals must meet social distancing requirements.
Much of the city’s economy is driven by tourism during the summer months, but this summer will be different in almost every way, with many would-be tourists reluctant to travel and with strict measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The board is taking the present moment as an opportunity to redefine what tourism looks like in Hudson, focusing less on overnight visitors from Brooklyn and more on the community that is already here, McManus said.
The board believes local businesses and organizations know how best to reinvigorate the economy as some restrictions on gathering are lifted.
“We want to solicit ideas rather than impose ideas,” McManus said.
To that end, the board hopes to receive proposals from a diversity of sources, including the LGBTQA community, veterans, women-owned businesses and the city’s Black, Latino and Bengali communities.
It is important that Hudson’s many communities are aware of the opportunity for funding and that everyone feels included in the city’s revival, McManus said.
The board is paying three community members a stipend to translate and circulate the board’s request for proposals to marginalized residents, said Lewis.
As the region advances through the four stages of reopening, many businesses are struggling to build momentum after being partially or fully closed for three months. Customers remain wary, even with precautions in place.
The board grappled with the question of how best to help local businesses and organizations within the limits of its power, as it is legally barred from distributing grants.
Heartbroken that businesses were facing such hardship during the COVID-19 shutdown, board members initially wanted to provide direct funding to business owners.
“We wanted to just put the money in a wheelbarrow and pass it out, but we can’t do that,” McManus said.
Instead, the board issued its request for proposals with the goal of casting as wide a net as possible.
Most proposals that are successful will receive 50% of the funding up front, with 50% reimbursed after the event or activity is completed. Up to five community-based organizations will be eligible for loans through the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.
Full upfront funding will be available to certain groups, ensuring no one is left out because they can’t front the money, Adler said.
The board has contracted with the CEDC to establish the loan program. The CEDC will receive a $5,000 fee, which will be used as collateral on the loans.
The CEDC will provide guidance and administrative services to the board free of charge.
“CEDC works in close partnership with many organizations to support businesses throughout the county, so when the Hudson Tourism Board approached us to help administer this project, we were happy to participate, especially during these uncertain times,” CEDC President F. Michael Tucker said.
Proposals that meet the board’s criteria are sent to the Common Council for approval. The council began reviewing proposals at a special meeting Tuesday and will meet again on July 1.
The $150,000 in funding will come from the board’s budget, which until recently was funded by lodging tax revenue. The board has an excess of $400,000, Common Council President Thomas DePietro said.
The board had received revenue from a 4% tax on short-term lodging, but in March the Common Council eliminated the provision, voting unanimously to deposit all future funds received through the short-term lodging tax into the city’s general fund for allocation during the budget process. Mayor Kamal Johnson signed the resolution, known as Local Law B, after a period of public comment.
The board will rely on the budgeting process, not lodging tax revenue, to fund its activities.
Johnson on Tuesday applauded the board’s decision to make funding available, calling it an example of how the city steps up in a crisis.
“I am excited that we get to put these funds back into the community during a much-needed time,” Johnson said.