Even as he panned a version of the tourism marketing deal last week, Mayor Bob Filner championed one element: more funding for the big 2015 Centennial Celebration in Balboa Park.

On Monday, Filner signed an amendment to the operating agreement with the Tourism Marketing District that laid out those funding plans after weeks of bickering with tourism officials. (For more details on the substance of the argument, check out this video explainer.)

Filner has claimed the agreement would provide “upwards of $3 million per year” for the event. But the 2015 celebration funding arrangement Filner signed off on is far from automatic — or simple.

“The amendment does not ‘guarantee’ or otherwise commit any funding to the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration,” City Attorney Jan Goldsmith wrote in a recent memo.

He’s right. Organizers of the 2015 celebration must apply for funds like any other group seeking financial assistance from the Tourism Marketing District, and they’ll need to prove the event will inspire hotel stays. In the tourism industry, that’s known as getting heads in beds. (For more details on the Centennial plans, check out this post.)

The latest version of the Tourism Marketing District contract states that the district should expect an application from Centennial Celebration organizers seeking 5 percent of disbursable funds for the period between January and June of this year. The document notes the payout shouldn’t exceed $750,000.

Centennial organizers can request 10 percent of disbursable funds for the next two years. Again, there’s a cap for the Balboa Park group. The Centennial can’t receive more than $6 million during a three-year period, according to the contract amendment approved Monday.

This year, the Tourism Marketing District planned to share more than $5.6 million to support other local events and their marketing efforts. The Centennial Celebration was one of those groups with a nearly $73,000 contribution.

The application process to get that money is intensive.

Applicants fill 12 three-ring binders with details about their event as well as the expected return on investment in hotel revenue and ways their group hopes to encourage those stays. They also answer questions at a Tourism Marketing District board meeting.

The ability to track the number of additional hotel visitors is crucial and sometimes discourages potential applicants.

Theresa Kosen, executive director of the San Diego Museum Council, said her group has considered applying for a grant to promote the annual February Museum Month but decided against it.

Kosen said the group can show 30,000 people visited San Diego County museums during this year’s month-long event but they’re working to determine how to track the number of hotel stays. Doing so would likely require formal partnerships with local hotels to track bookings.

Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair, which received $25,000 in tourism marketing funds last year, arranged for blocks of rooms for out-of-town visitors during the September event, said Ann Berchtold, the group’s executive director.

After the event, her group used booking sheets, online surveys and event exhibitor lists to verify the number of hotel stays increased from 450 to 780 room nights. Only then did the tourism district actually cut the $25,000 check.

To get tourism marketing funds, Centennial organizers will have to make a similar effort.

That’s due to Proposition 26, a state law that complicated public officials’ ability to raise fees.

TMD attorney John Lambeth described it this way in an email:

“Prop. 26 requires that we provide a specific benefit or privilege directly to the assessed hotels that we do not provide to others. The TMD application structure was developed to ensure that the TMD provides specific benefit to the assessed hotels. The application, the return estimates, the vendor reports of results, and the independent performance audits work together to make sure that the funds are spent efficiently and effectively.”

Basically, the Tourism Marketing District has to vet applications to avoid a lawsuit.

Still, it’s not as if the Tourism Marketing District would be a new supporter of the Centennial celebration. San Diego Tourism Authority chief Joe Terzi and TMD executive Lorin Stewart are on the 2015 celebration’s planning committee.

And a $50,000 donation from the district kicked off the official planning process. The district later allocated another $300,000 and planned to chip in $72,594 this year.

Centennial organizers always expected the tourism district would come through with more funds. They also knew they had to apply for them.

The new tourism marketing deal simply puts that in writing.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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