Middletown Visitors Bureau will get $224K to continue ‘positive message’ of city’s events, tourism

After a lengthy discussion and a last-minute revision, Middletown City Council unanimously approved an American Rescue Plan Act grant to the Middletown Visitors Bureau during its meeting Tuesday.

Mayor Nicole Condrey, for the first time publicly, said she “interacts” with the MVB so she abstained from voting on the legislation. Vice Mayor Monica Nenni was excused from the meeting.

The grant was scheduled to be for $224,000 over two years, but council member Zack Ferrell, concerned the MVB may need more money in two years, suggested spreading the grant over three years. Council voted to appropriate 40% of the $224,000 the first two years and 20% the third year.

The MVB will receive $89,600 this year and in 2023 and $44,800 in 2024.

The grant was needed because the MVB’s budget has been slashed by nearly 50% due to lower bed tax caused by fewer travelers sleeping in Middletown hotels, Executive Director Mary Huttlinger has said. The MVB splits the bed tax with the city’s economic development department.

The MVB budget was $180,000 in 2019, then dropped to $170,000 in 2020 and $100,000 last year, she said. This year’s MVB budget from the bed tax is $150,000 because the lodging industry is projecting increased travel, she said.

Council members asked Huttlinger to revise her allocations for the ARPA grant at its Feb. 1 meeting. They were concerned that the money was earmarked to promote only three community events: Portopia, a mixed-media, interactive art exhibit that attracted 4,700 patrons in its first year at Torchlight Pass; GeoCache and the Mural Walk.

Condrey was concerned that $85,000, or 75%, of the budget, was earmarked for Portopia, an event created by the MVB.

At the time, Huttlinger said she would revise the 2022 budget to make it “more palatable.”

City Manager Jim Palenick called the revision “a very different budget.”

Board President Mica Glaser Jones, who presented the budget while Huttlinger was out of town where she participated in the meeting on Zoom, said the budget assures the visitors bureau will continues its mission of spreading a “positive message” about all the city offers through marketing, advertising and promotions.

Huttlinger said she was more than happy to develop a marketing campaign for any and all Middletown events as long as she gets cooperation for organizers.

Tourism should be considered “a key driver” for economic development and the city should responsibly spend ARPA funds, what she called “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the “best way to maximum” the money, she said.

The $30,000 for Community Partner Matching Funds allows the MVB to assist in marketing events in the city as long as organizers meet certain benchmarks like historical data that shows it attracts visitors outside Middletown zip codes and organizers can present a marketing plan.


$30,000: Community Partner Matching Funds

$30,000: Geocaching Project

$24,000: Digital Campaigns

$23,200: Social Media Boosting

$20,000: Other Advertising Print Buys

$14,000: Influencer Marketing

$10,800: Advertising Print Buy, Butler and Warren County Convention Visitors Bureaus

$10,000: Visitors Guides

$10,000: TV advertising

$10,000: Radio advertising

$6,000: Hamilton, Fairfield, Middletown magazines

$6,000: Printed Materials, Brochures, Flyers

$6,000: Regional Travel Shows

$5,000: Heartland Travel Showcase

$5,000: Hosting Industry Experts

$4,000: Small Business Incentive Program

$4,000: Sponsorships

$6,000: Unplanned Expense/Opportunity

SOURCE: Middletown Visitors Bureau

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