by Michael Smith
(Weldon, NC, U.S.)
Visitor Question: Are grants provided by a State, such as North Carolina, required to be paid back in any way or fashion? How do I find the information and what is the simplest way to explain to residents how funding works for beautification or a piece of art that will not only attract tourism, but increase property values?
For an example, see the photo of Rocky one of the largest Rockfish Sculptures between Maine, Maryland and Florida.
Our mayor told me of an incident where she was talking to a store owner whose store is directly across from Rocky. The mayor non-nonchalantly asked, "What do you think about our new addition to our town?" The store owner replied angrily that "what a waste of money which could have been spent in better ways like jobs!"
We are a small rural town that was once a booming agricultural and industrial area and have since fallen as a result of many reason but we fighting to make a comeback.
Also, as you can see, Rocky stops motorists in their tracks to proudly take pictures with The Rockfish Capital of the World "Striped Bass."
Grant making practices vary widely, so it's impossible to predict whether a grant from a state government will require repayment or not. Strictly speaking, if it is a grant, there is no repayment involved.
If the community is expected to repay at some time and some rate, it should be called a loan program. Often state-sponsored programs for economic development or art would call their programs revolving loans if repayment is due.
Many times grants (which you should think of as gifts, but with strings attached) require what is called a local match, an amount of money from local sources that could be the government, chamber of commerce, local fundraising, or another funder.
In short, each grant has its own rules. Even from year to year, the same basic grant competition could have changed the rules. Grant rules are often called regulations and usually written by state employees rather than included in the legislation.
But even this generalization might have its exceptions.
Moving to the other part of your implied question, about whether the rockfish statue is a good investment of public dollars, we think that if your goal is tourism, any and every attraction helps.
That doesn't mean one piece of art or beautification is sufficient to make you an important travel destination, even within your region.
If the visitor experience when they arrive is pleasant and there is something to do in addition to snapping a photo of the kids with the big rockfish, you are building tourism.
On the other hand, if there's no place to park, the sculpture or replica is difficult to walk to, there's nothing interesting around, the wayfinding signs are inadequate or nonexistent, or the neighboring businesses are hostile, your fish sculpture may bring disappointing long-term results.
But you have one building block for a tourism program, and it usually takes several. Apparently the business owner who made the negative comment isn't feeling the vibe yet of more employment coming to town due to people stopping to take their photos.
For a small town in North Carolina, the next step beyond the photo op might be a great family-friendly, casual dress, and not too taste-specific restaurant right nearby. We mean a sit-down restaurant, not a drive-through lane. It should be visible from where people stop to take their photos.
Keep emphasizing clean-up of trash and abandoned buildings or lots too.
Comments for Beautification Projects cost money and North Carolina provides Special Funding or Grants
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