Scotts Bluff County board approves tourism funding
GERING — Members of the Scotts Bluff County Board unanimously approved $110,000 in grant funding at their Monday meeting to enhance the area’s tourism venues.
Commissioner Charlie Knapper, who serves on the county’s tourism board, said the funds were already in the tourism budget and would be lost if not spent.
“County tourism is coming up on the end of the fiscal year and still had $115,000 in the budget,” Knapper said. “23 Club has already raised almost $600,000 from private donors and Scottsbluff is matching that amount. “A lot of collaboration has gone into this project and some major corporate sponsors got involved.”
Brenda Leisy, director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau, said the board approved a $60,000 grant to help with renovations of the 23 Club Babe Ruth League baseball complex in Scottsbluff.
Brick-and-mortar renovations will include a crow’s nest, handicap-accessible bathrooms, a concessions stand, updated plumbing and heating/air conditioning, a new picnic area, landscaping, a paved parking lot and new batting cages.
The total project is in the $1.8 million range and should be completed by May 2020.
“23 Club has state and regional tournaments at the end of the season, which brings in about 70 families to stay in our area,” Leisy told the board. “Before we awarded a grant, we wanted to see some buy-in from the City of Scottsbluff, which they approved. They showed they were willing to update the stadium, so the county tourism board felt comfortable contributing as well.”
County tourism is funded through lodging taxes, so projects may only be used for brick-and-mortar improvements.
“23 Club Baseball has been around a long time,” said County Board Chair Ken Meyer. “They’ve always been able to be self-sustaining. For that organization to raise more than a half-million dollars is a feather in their cap.”
The county board also approved on a 5-0 vote to award a $50,000 grant to the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation toward a $1.8 million project for the expansion and renovation of the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbot Visitor Center at Chimney Rock. That project should also be completed by May 2020.
“After the 2017 Bayard tornado, they decided it was pretty important to have a concrete shelter to protect visitors,” Leisy said. “The exhibits also need to be redone and they’re planning an outdoor educational classroom for guests and also grade schools.”
Each year, the attraction brings in about 35,000 visitors.
“I know they’re in Morrill County,” Leisy told the board, “but most people will continue on the Oregon Trail and visit the monument and stay in our county for the day.”
She said the partnership the tourism office has developed with Chimney Rock is important because of our Oregon Trail history. Her office brings bus tours and travel writer tours to the site to expose a wider audience to our unique history.
“So far, they’ve raised more than a million dollars toward this project,” Leisy said. “A lot of people have contributed to this and about 90% of the funding has been from eastern Nebraska.