It pays to thank the Orange City Council. Most of the organizations that had representatives appear during a public hearing Tuesday for the Hotel Occupancy Tax allocations got more money than suggested.
Not every group budgeted money appeared before the council. “I didn’t hear from everyone and it kind of makes me sad,” said District 4 Councilor Annette Pernell. She suggested the council “dig in our pockets” to help the organizations that came.
The yearly allocations come from the 7 percent city share of taxes on the fees for hotel room rentals. State law requires the income to be spent on tourism, the arts or historical preservation. The council-appointed Convention and Visitors Board recommended the allocations totaling $612,500 with $1.22 million in reserves. Most of the money, $392,500, is spent to run the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The council voted to give a more to the Lutcher Theater, Friends of the Orange Depot, Heritage House Museum and Southeast Texas Arts Council Off Ramp Magazine.
The council eliminated the $5,000 to the Orange Trade Days.
After the council suggestions, the allocations are:
Lutcher Theater, $50,000
Friends of the Orange Depot, $15,000
Heritage House Museum, $30,000
Chamber of Commerce Mardi Gras Parade, $5,000
Chamber of Commerce National Fishing Tournament, $25,000
Gulf Coast Cajun Festival, $7,000
Riverfront Boardwalk Landscape Maintenance, $10,000
Southeast Texas Arts Council Off Ramp Magazine, $7,000.
Convention and Visitors Bureau, $392,500
Boat Ramp and Boardwalk repairs, $80,000
Orange Lions Club, $5,000
Lutcher Theater Director Lynae Sanford (addressing council) told the council the non-profit Stark Foundation pays for the theater building, but the operations are part of a non-profit group that gets donations to produce the shows. The city has been giving $50,000 a year to the theater, but the CVB suggested $45,000.
Sanford said the theater groups alone rented 867 nights at local hotels. During the 2018-19 season, two theater companies are using the theater and Orange to rehearse and then open road productions. The theater companies will spend “hundreds of nights” in the local hotels.
Sue Denosowicz, president of the Heritage House Museum board, said the museum has been closed because of damage from Tropical Storm Harvey, but has continued activities like the fall Historic Ghost Walk through downtown, Christmas with Santa, and the spring A Walk in the Past in Evergreen Cemetery.
She said the office building and the Williams Archives Building were flooded in Harvey and the main museum, the former J.O. Sims home, had water damage from the storm. The J.O. Sims home is on the National Register of Historic Places and a Texas Historic landmark. The group has insurance and has been working with FEMA.
Heritage House was a communitywide Bicentennial Project to preserve local history. The city has supported it for 42 years. Denosowicz said the group is preparing to fix the damage buildings and hopes to be open in the spring.
Brown Claybar with the Friends of the Orange Depot board said the old train depot has been restored and is being rented every weekend for activities.
Pernell praised the depot group for turning the long-vacant train station into a beautiful part of downtown.
Claybar said the depot group has been working with developers to try to get a plaza developed on vacant commercial land to the east. The land was donated to the group. He said the proposed plaza would have retail and office space.
Cody Vasquez of Orange is with the Southeast Arts Council board and represented Off Ramp Magazine, a regionwide publication promoting arts and tourism. A recent edition featured new Orange Mayor Larry Spears Jr.
Rusty Trahan with the Gulf Coast Cajun Club said the annual Cajun Festival will be this year on October 20 at the VFW and draws people from across Cajun country to celebrate the culture.
Orange County Commissioner John Gothia represented the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce. The hotel tax money helps support the chamber’s Mardi Gras parade in downtown and national fishing tournaments at the boat ramp.
Pernell suggested the chamber get with local groups to help sponsor a Juneteenth event.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-