The biggest grant the Kosciusko County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission approved Wednesday was for $95,000 to the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts.

The grant will be for holiday housing expenses and updating the Wagon Wheel’s website.

Wagon Wheel Executive Director Lakesha Green said by approving the grant, the Commission would indirectly ensure the Wagon Wheel the future success in preparation of “one of the most unique tourism attractions, which is our holiday show.”

During the time Wagon Wheel’s holiday show “shows up, everybody’s either in Florida or they’re away. But people come back from all over surrounding counties and states to see our holiday show.” The Wagon Wheel’s holiday show has brought people from other counties, states and possibly other countries.

The success of the Wagon Wheel’s programs have increased the overnight visitors in the county, Green said.

Director of Donor Relations Elisa Wise said of the $95,000 grant, $80,000 will cover the cost of housing 20 cast members for the production cycle during December. The Wagon Wheel is planning on using hotels around the Wagon Wheel to keep cast members in close proximity to the Wagon Wheel due to possibly not having cars.

On a yearly basis, 53% of visitors to the Wagon Wheel are residents from outside the county. If visitors stayed overnight in hotels in Kosciusko County, it could possibly bring in about $189,000 or higher, Wise said.

Wise said the reason they are asking for a grant for hotel rooms is because of the White Hill Manor project. It should be a one-time request.

Green, after the meeting, said the Wagon Wheel owns the White Hill Manor and usually houses most of the Wagon Wheel production staff. The  Builders Association is going in and doing a diagnostic of the building to see what repairs are needed to the manor. The Wagon Wheel knows there’s a roof leak, but they’re trying to figure out what other repairs are needed. Green said by the 2023 summer season, the repairs will be done.

The remaining $15,000 of the grant will go toward updating the Wagon Wheel’s website, said Chief Operating Officer Holly Lantz. The website is a critical component of bringing tourism to the county. About 55% of tickets are purchased online from people who live outside the county. About 77% of the Wagon Wheel’s Facebook followers live outside Kosciusko County.

Lantz said the website needs to be “heavily updated.” She noted the Wagon Wheel has received data and patron surveys saying the website is not user friendly and it doesn’t provide all the information to people that they would like to see, especially those who live outside the county.

Green said there the website did crash at one point and the Wagon Wheel doesn’t want another crash.

Lantz said the Wagon Wheel is going to work with a local company to revamp the website.

Commission member Mark Skibowski asked if the Wagon Wheel is reaching out to other people and organizations to fundraise. Green said they are. Skibowski then asked if the Wagon Wheel didn’t get the money, could they still put on the production. Green said they could, but it would take away money from other projects they are trying to do including fixing the roof.

In other business, the Commission:

• Approved to ask for $150,000 in appropriations from the Kosciusko County Council. It will have to be approved during the Council’s June meeting.

• Approved a $10,643 grant to Lake City Skiers for a scorers building dependant on the approval of the appropriations.

The grant was tabled from  the Commission’s meeting in March so more information could be obtained to answer questions Commission members had.

Props and costumes will be stored in the building, which Chuck McLaughlin said is very important to Lake City Skiers. In the past few years, they have been put into the equipment shed.

Part of the grant will also go toward maintaining equipment.

• Did a budget review for 2023. It was planned to have $15,000 in the administrative fund, $350,000 in the grants fund and $420,000 in the county visitors bureau fund for a total budget of $785,000.