The Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team and Kent Chamber of Commerce are among the groups that will receive grants from the city of Kent’s lodging tax fund.
This is the first year the city has awarded grants since Kent leaders cancelled and reduced funds in May 2020 after the pandemic struck. When people stopped staying in local hotels because of COVID-19, lodging tax revenue practically disappeared.
The revenue is starting to return. But city leaders decided to use $200,000 of American Rescue Act federal funds awarded to Kent to pay for this year’s grants to promote tourism and business in town.
“We stopped grants due to the pandemic,” said Michelle Wilmot, city Economic and Community Development manager, in a May 9 report to a City Council committee. “Without overnight stays, there has not been revenue for the grant program. …But with federal funds, we have smaller grants for this year.”
The city’s lodging tax fund is from a 1% state tax on overnight hotel, motel and bed and breakfast stays in Kent. State law dictates who is eligible to apply, and mandates the funds be used for marketing and promotion of business and leisure tourism.
The city of Kent’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee recommends grants to the council. The committee includes representatives from the city, Kent Chamber, Kent Downtown Partnership, ShoWare Center and the hotel industry.
In November 2019, the council approved $330,000 in grants for 2020 to nine groups, but with the drop in lodging tax revenue the city was unable to fund all of those programs and some events were canceled.
The council’s Economic and Community Development Committee voted 3-0 to approve the recommendations about how to spend the $200,000. That recommendation goes to the full seven-member council for approval.
The Seattle Thunderbirds, a Western Hockey League team that plays at the city-owned accesso ShoWare Center, will receive $60,000, the largest of the seven grants awarded.
“The Thunderbirds have long been a recipient of lodging grant tax funds because of the large amount of people they bring to the community and the overnight stays they bring,” Wilmot said.
Funds will be used by the T-Birds to help promote the visitkent.com website that promotes the city. The team displays visitkent.com on its team bus. The team also will promote the website on radio and television during its games and at the ShoWare Center.
The team draws about 180,000 hockey fans to Kent each season, according to the T-Birds.
Kent Chamber of Commerce will receive a $50,000 grant to help publish a business and tourism directory that will feature businesses that may or may not be Chamber members. The directories will be placed in local hotel rooms to promote restaurants and shops. The Chamber also will use city funds to promote the city of Kent as one of the sponsors of various events.
Other grant recipients
• Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance
The Redmond-based group will receive $27,000 for a technology and business expo Sept. 14-15 at the ShoWare Center. The expo will feature new and advanced technologies in the aerospace industry. It’s a conference for industry representatives but also will include exhibits open to the public. About 350 industry representatives are expected to attend.
• Gut Check Tournament
An Olympia-based group will run a youth wrestling tournament June 27-29 at the ShoWare Center and will receive $25,000. As many as 4,000 to 5,000 attendees are expected with wrestlers, coaches, parents and families.
• Food Northwest
The Portland-based group will receive $19,000 to help fund a Food Processing Hot Topics Forum Nov. 7-8 at the ShoWare Center. Food Northwest is a nonprofit that supports the food manufacturing industry, which includes several businesses in Kent. About 500 people are expected to attend.
• Kent International Festival
The June 18 event at the ShoWare Center will receive $10,000 to help pay performers at the 14th annual festival, which hasn’t been held at the arena for two years due to the pandemic. The festival features performers, cultural and informational booths and much more. As many as 6,000 to 7,000 people are expected to attend.
• Women in Manufacturing
A national nonprofit with a Mukilteo chapter that helps promote manufacturing as a career for women will receive $9,000 to help fund a series of sessions to bring young girls into the business, including partnering with a group of women who work at Kent-based Blue Origin and help mentor students. About 100 participants are expected per session.