GOOD TIMES Participants in the 2021 Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience enjoy the wine and conversation in the Grand Tasting Pavilion.

The latest round of grants awarded by the Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District (HTID) was announced earlier this month, the most recent installment in a program begun in 2020 and approved to last for 10 years. 

The latest distribution, of over $100,000, went to 11 organizations for their ability to put “heads in beds,” per the requirements of the HTID.

OUTDOOR CONCERT Healdsburg Jazz, the single largest beneficiary of Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District awards, has received more than $100,000 over the last three years.

A Tourism Improvement District is described in their management plan as “an evolution of the traditional Business Improvement District,” focused on getting results for a tourism economy. The 30 lodging businesses in the district, roughly contiguous with city limits, pay an extra 2% assessment into the district, on top of the 12% Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) the city requires. 

What the subscribers get out of the deal is focused marketing that directly benefits the lodging businesses, in the form of “destination marketing intended to provide benefits and services directly to those businesses paying the assessment.”

‘Heads in Beds’

Jessica Bohan, the director of tourism and marketing for Stay Healdsburg (the hospitality arm of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce), presented an annual report on the HTID to the City Council on April 15.

CORNER The proposed H4 Residence Hotel at North and Healdsburg Ave., with a ground-floor restaurant and 16 units in the upper three stories. (David Baker Architects)

HTID’s success is clear everywhere you look in today’s Healdsburg: a destination city filled with sommeliers and sous chefs, and three- and four-star hotels to provide comfortable stays.

Hosting the “18 journalists and influencers” who published, podcasted and tik-talked about Healdsburg in the last year has resulted in 264 total online media placements and 41 in print (according to Bohan). These results show that the HTID’s purpose, of promoting Healdsburg as a desirable place for overnight visitors, is fulfilled.

The industry shorthand for this purpose is “heads in beds,” a phrase often repeated in the City Council meeting.

Out of an annual HTID budget of over a million dollars, with most revenue derived from the 2% assessment, 15% is allocated for District Development (or DD) grants. Last year, in 2023, that resulted in over $285,000 awarded to 23 recipients. The awards have steadily increased since 2020, and are projected to continue doing so through the end of the decade.

‘Big Shift’

However, when Bohan and Hart introduced the spring DD grants for 2024 at the April 15 meeting, several recipients signaled what Councilmember Chris Herrod called “a pretty big shift” from previous award patterns: More out-of-town entities received the awards, and several previously awarded local organizations were excluded.

The Spring 2024 District Development grants listed over $109,000 to 11 organizations for upcoming events. The largest such grants, of $30,000 each, went to SD Media Productions LLC, which will bring the third Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience to town in May; and to Healdsburg Jazz for the upcoming 26th annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival in June.

SOLARPUNK Promo materials for the Edge Village in Healdsburg are full of sci-fi images like floating cities and poolside live-work utopias. (Image courtesy of Edge Esmeralda)

Additional grants of $10,000 each went to two other non-local business enterprises, Songwriters in Paradise LLC or Healdsburg SIP, scheduled for July; and the Adventureland Institute Inc., for the Edge Village project planned at various locations in Healdsburg for June.

Herrod expressed his concerns that “we’re seeing a lot of money going to … some for-profit entities and some businesses that are outside of the town.”

In this “big shift,” not only were awards totaling $50,000 made to these out-of-town corporations,  but local entities, including the Raven Theater, Corazon Healdsburg and the city’s own Community Services Department—for the summer Tuesdays in the Plaza—were squeezed to smaller amounts on the awards list. 

To be sure, most of the awards still went to local organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, such as Bloodroot Wines for their Ramble, the Boys & Girls Clubs for the Healdsburg Crush event in the Plaza, and the 4th of July Parade and Fireworks, supported by two grants to the American Legion and Rotary Club.

Healdsburg Jazz, which has received over $100,000 in DD grants since the program was initiated in 2020, was again a recipient this year.

But the move to support outside entities over local ones has only grown since 2022, when the Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience received $10,000. Its awards have grown: It was a repeat recipient the next year, with $24,500, and again in 2024 with a still-larger $30,000 grant, for a total of $64,500 over the past two years.

SMOKIN’ SOUNDS Reggae group Sol Horizon played the gazebo stage on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, entertaining an unusually smoky audience. (Photo courtesy of City of Healdsburg)

Councilmember Ron Edwards also found fault with the awards allocations, saying they could be used to attract “a broader spectrum of people,” more out-of-country Spanish speakers or African-Americans from Atlanta or Houston than just the wine-and-cheese crowd. “One of my thoughts was that the Wine & Food Experience is building on its own, but they’re getting more grant money and we’ve lost a little bit on Dia de los Muertos,” he said.

Working with a smaller grant this year is the city’s own Community Services Department, whose previous annual awards of $15,000 for Tuesday in the Plaza were cut to $5,000 in 2024.

“Performer bookings are still a work in progress, but we may need to look at reducing performer expenses to offset some of the grant funding reduction,” said Mark Themig, the director of Community Services. “The show will go on, it just might be a bit different than years past.”

Coming up empty from the recent application process were Move! Healdsburg, the Healdsburg Arts Festival, a three-day Memorial Day “Cosmico” music festival and several other applicants.

The Chamber’s visitor-facing website is

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.



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