HUDSON — Owners of tourism-centered businesses found an unexpected scheduling conflict Monday.
The Hudson Development Corporation’s full Emergency Business Task Force met via Zoom for its weekly meeting at 5 p.m., the same time as the emergency Tourism Board meeting, which was announced on April 28.
The Emergency Business Task Force was created in March to address how various types of businesses could survive the COVID-19 pandemic in Hudson with four subcomittees: business, hospitality, quality of life and culture.
The activity of the committee during the past week or two has been focused on developing funding to support community nonprofits and businesses, with a lot of effort on how to structure, manage and disburse those funds, HDC Board President Robert Rasner said.
A small group of HDC members met Monday with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, who Rasner said has been helpful in the planning phase, and will be valuable in fundraising and managing the funds.
A special meeting of the HDC board has been called to explain what an agreement with Berksire Taconic will mean, and to seek approval for the agreement to consult and manage the process, Rasner said.
“The HDC has a lot of energy, bright people digging in, but we also need to acknowledge our limits,” Rasner said. “Berkshire Taconic is well known in the area, extremely credible, and they bring that to our efforts.”
HDC board member Christine Jones, who also serves on one of the Columbia County funds, said having seem their techniques, how they review grants and their expertise, she believes their individual reviewers represent Columbia County fairly.
“I know that Peter Taylor, who is the president [of Berkshire Taconic], is very excited to have a geographic fund for Hudson,” Jones said. “He believes Hudson is a strong and vital player in all of Columbia County and he has had some really great suggestions.”
Rasner said when contributions are made to a fund like this, the giver gets a tax break, which means the federal government is participating in 30% of the gift, so distribution must be defined as having a community benefit.
The task force is seeking two businesses per block to assist the HDC in defining what the need is, the best way to meet it, and how it should be approached.
“We’re crafting ways to get the support, but we have to have strong input from the prospective recipients of this to understand what will be of most value,” Rasner said.
The subcommittees have been focusing on enhancing communication and coordination between different entities throughout the city, including the Tourism Board.
The committee’s Arts Emergency Program has raised over $10,000 and has begun reviewing applications, Culture Subcommittee member Seth Rogovoy said. He sees a long-term benefit for Hudson.
John Kane of Hudson is working to create a survey on diner sentiment in Hudson and Columbia County, which the HDC hopes to release this week.
“We’re addressing both current sentiment and future sentiment about dining out in Hudson,” HDC Executive Director Branda Maholtz said.
The HDC business survey has collected 60 responses from Hudson and Columbia County, and is working to analyze the data, Alex Petraglia said. He said there is a lot of similarities in what businesses are struggling with, but there is a wide range of sentiment in terms of how businesses feel about their prospects for returning.
“It seems like every time we turn the corner there’s a new challenge,” Rasner said. “Part of it is because we don’t know the future very much yet.”
The HDC Emergency Business Task Force full committee meeting will be moved back to 3 p.m. each Monday to avoid conflicts with other city meetings, Maholtz said.
“We will get there,” Rasner said. “Not getting there is simply not an option. This place is too good to let it slip away.” The Tourism Board met to discuss an emergency grant program for local businesses. At the last meeting, the board determined the city cannot give Tourism Board funds to local businesses without something tangible in return. They worked on an idea to fund short-term projects that could be completed during social distancing and long-term projects that could be planned now for when the city starts to reopen.
The meeting included discussing specifics of its criteria for judging the grant applications, including environmental impacts and benefiting marginalized populations. Jane Trombley said the board’s values should be prioritized.
Criteria will be published with the applications and used internally.
The board weighed the option of each member scoring each project and discussing them further as a group, or having a rotating group of reviewers, but ultimately decided that the full board should participate in scoring.
The Tourism Board will review applications and submit recommendations to the Common Council to be reviewed during its informal meeting on the second Monday of each month and approved at the formal meeting on the third Tuesday of each month.
With a reopening time line unknown, the board discussed prioritizing short-term projects.
Board members will edit and make suggestions on the Request for Proposals over the next two days in hopes of getting projects started soon.
McManus said he has been working with the HDC’s Cultural Task Force and the group offered the idea of a master plan to minimize redundancies in projects being pursued.
“I feel like we need to be part of the conversation,” board member Chris McManus said. “How do we bring back tourists appropriately? Obviously our grants are a big part of this. But the part I’m most passionate about, to be honest, is coordination and alignment with other organizations. If we do this right we will have a recovery in Hudson that not only gets us back on track, but also sets us up for the future and prepares us for other crises.”