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Napa County will provide $345,000 in funding for arts, tourism and culture programs in the next year, but the Board of Supervisors has declined to approve a request for a $50,000 grant for the Napa Valley Film Festival.

The festival couldn’t prove that it has a viable business plan as it went through the grant process, and evaluators think it’s too aggressive in its growth projections and hasn’t secured the cash sponsorships it says it will, said Allison Simpson, vice president of marketing for Visit Napa Valley.

“We could not in good conscience recommend the funding for the film festival,” Simpson told the Board of Supervisors last week. “We, as a group reviewing it, didn’t have that confidence with the film festival.”

Festival co-founder Marc Lhormer disputed that assertion. He said that after an initial first-year operating loss and breaking even in 2012, the festival projects to have a surplus this year and a larger one in 2014.

The festival’s audience grew 30 percent last year, he said, and he anticipates seeing another 30 percent in growth this year.

“This is a picture of a festival organization moving in the right, sustainable direction,” Lhormer told the supervisors.

The $345,000 comes from revenue collected under the county’s transient occupancy tax, with two-thirds, or $229,000, going to Visit Napa Valley as ongoing funding, and the final third split among grant applicants.

 That last pot of money is doled out based on the recommendations of a committee featuring Visit Napa Valley and the local governance committee of the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District.

The committee recommended:

• $45,000 in funding for Arts Council Napa Valley and the Napa Valley Museum for their  Napa Valley Collection project;

• $28,000 for the Napa Valley Vine Trail’s marketing campaign, as it’s set to complete a stretch between Napa and Yountville in summer 2014;

• $15,000 for the Napa Valley Opera House’s digital marketing campaign;

• $15,000 for the Lincoln Theater for advertising;

• $5,992 for the Napa Bike Coalition to pay for celebrity bicyclists in the Legendary Napa Valley Bike Tour in November; and

• $5,992 for the Napa County Historical Society and Napa County Landmarks for an ad campaign promoting a tour of historic wineries.

The Board of Supervisors adopted those recommendations in dispensing the grant funding, although Lhormer and his partner, Brenda Lhormer, asked the supervisors to reconsider.

Brenda Lhormer said the portrayal of the film festival’s business model wasn’t accurate. Marc Lhormer said the festival relies on professional management of its expenses to ensure they stay in line with revenue projections.

The festival sought the $50,000 grant to pay for a marketing and promotion campaign. It received a $25,000 grant last year. Despite the rejection, the festival is eligible to apply for the grant funding again next year, said Larry Florin, the county’s director of housing and intergovernmental affairs.

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Marc Lhormer did not return a call seeking comment by late Friday.

In explaining its decision not to recommend the grant, the committee said the festival hasn’t obtained enough funding to cover operational costs.

After reviewing the festival’s potential sponsors, the committee said it didn’t think it would attract enough money to cover a 36 percent increase in expenses, according to the committee’s report. Simpson said the sponsorships lined up accounted for less than half the amount projected.

The Napa Valley Collection, Vine Trail and Opera House were the only programs or events to receive the full amount requested. The committee recommended partial funding for the Lincoln Theater, the Napa Bike Coalition and the Historical Society.

It also rejected a second application from the Historical Society and Napa County Landmarks for $12,000, as well as an $8,400 application from Tuleyome Napa.

The supervisors said they had supported the film festival in the past, including a $50,000 loan in 2010, but felt they were bound to follow the committee’s recommendations.

“It’s hard to deliver not-good news,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said. “This board has historically been invested in good process. We need to adhere to the process.”

Supervisor Bill Dodd said that he wished the film festival well but felt he had to follow the recommendation.

“I do appreciate the work you’ve done,” Dodd said. “I do have confidence you’re going to have a great year. I just cannot, in good conscience, override the recommendation we’ve been given.”


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