Tourism board discusses grants to local businesses

File photo The dock on the Hudson Waterfront. The city’s waterfront figures strongly in plans under consideration by the Hudson Tourism Board.

HUDSON — As COVID-19 has many local businesses scrambling to come up with new strategies, the Tourism Board met Friday.

The board held its first official meeting of 2020 virtually, opening with advisement for the proper use of its $400,000 fund by Corporation Counsel Cheryl Roberts.

She said there have been many inquiries about whether the money could be used as part of a grant program for small businesses in need for things like payroll, utility bills and other costs.

The state Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials confirmed that city funds cannot be used in this way under the state constitution.

“[It] basically prohibits governments from giving out gifts to individuals or private parties,” Roberts said. “There has to be some benefit, and I understand that it’s certainly a benefit for Hudson to have businesses that are going to survive, but in this instance, a benefit has to be something that is tangible.”

Alderman Calvin Lewis, who chairs the Tourism Committee, could not attend the meeting due to illness, Common Council President Thomas DePietro said. DePietro chaired the meeting in Lewis’ absence.

Board member Chris McManus, a marketing professional and one of Mayor Kamal Johnson’s appointments to the board, challenged the board to think about the diversity of Hudson’s tourists.

Hudson has traditionally targeted tourists who travel by train or car for weekend stays from the New York City metropolitan area or Boston.

“We also have to look at people who are going to get in their car and drive for 20 minutes, or they’re going to walk down the street,” McManus said.

As local economies start to slowly reopen, McManus anticipates people in the first category will focus on supporting their local businesses, and Hudson should focus its short-term tourism efforts on the daytrippers from surrounding towns, Albany, Kingston and the Berkshires.

McManus, who said he is most passionate about intratourism, asked, “How do we inspire our neighbors to come out and patronize businesses and take part in activities?”

Johnson also appointed Tamar Adler, a writer and founder of Friends of Oakdale; Kristan Keck, co-owner of Wm. Farmer and Sons; and Filiz Soyak, an educator and small business owner.

Common Council appointee Sidney Long shared her ideas on connecting Hudsonians while practicing social distancing. She mentioned the Old Shiloh Baptist Church, which is under consideration for local landmark status with the Historic Preservation Committee, as a way to draw tourists to areas of Hudson off Warren Street.

Long spoke of Open Studio Hudson moving online to support artists through the pandemic. The Tourism Board contributed to the first Open Studio Hudson event last October. She suggested doing videos or interviews to keep a record of the pandemic.

The council also appointed Hannah Black, Selya Graham and Kate Treacy to serve on the Tourism Board.

In researching marketing firms’ strategies in other cities, Adler found the best way to market a city is to improve the substance of a place, rather than focusing on the branding or image.

“The best work we can do is … to really focus on the substance of our city and the substance of our location,” Adler said. This includes expanding from tourists being drawn to Hudson to eat, sleep and shop, to include walk, play, create, invest and thrive.”

“As soon as the city is more walkable, like we have parks, walking trails and bike lanes and sidewalks, money that is otherwise going to gas in cars and other places gets turned inward,” Adler said.

Considering climate resiliency and child-centered spaces would make Hudson more attractive to visitors and healthier for residents, Adler said. She also recommended a tactical urban approach in the form of grants to fund low-cost temporary changes.

Community member Sam Merrit brought a potential proposal to the board for Waterfront Wednesdays, a time for Hudsonians and visitors to celebrate and utilize the Hudson riverfront.

Merrit said, like many, he has been thinking about how the world will change post-pandemic. He said during the recovery period, he thinks outdoor activities will be more attractive, and the waterfront provides opportunities to practice long-term social distancing. The proposal would include a collaborative effort for activities such as a movie projected on a schooner’s sails, paddling and sailing excursions, trips to the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse and food.

McManus said now is the time to collect and organize ideas for both immediate response and long-term recovery. Mayoral Aide Michael Chameides shared how the Tourism Board could use its funding for small, short-term grants for projects to take place during physical distancing, and larger long-term grants to plan projects for the recovery period.

An ad hoc committee of McManus, Adler, Soyak and Black was formed to quickly draft a Request for Proposal, or RFP, and work on a rubric for assessing proposals.

“People are interested in Hudson, and the way we tackle this pandemic I think will be of great interest to a larger audience,” Long said. “I think from a public relations point of view, it’s really a very powerful story.”