Main Street El Dorado is offering a new grant program to help small businesses within its footprint and the program is directly tied to MusicFest.
MusicFest is MSE's flagship event and biggest fundraiser and organizers hope to allocate a portion of the proceeds from this year's event for an improvement project that will make a significant impact, not only within the MSE district, but also the community as a whole.
MSE recently announced the first-ever MusicFest small business grant in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the festival, which is set for Oct. 6 and 7 in downtown El Dorado.
Beth Brumley, MSE executive director, said board members came up with the idea for the project two weeks ago and are still hammering out the details.
She noted that the purpose of the grant, which will be awarded to a small business, aligns with a 2021 directive that was issued by the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Each year, the ADPHT, via the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, awards Downtown Revitalization Grants to local Main Street and Arkansas Downtown Network (ADN) programs for projects that have a long-term impact in local communities.
MSE typically directs a portion of its annual DTRG toward its mini-grant program, which assists small businesses within the MSE district with interior and exterior improvement projects, including painting, lighting, flooring, window treatments, awnings, etc.
Previously, MSE doled out mini-grant awards of up to $1,500 but in 2021, ADPHT officials encouraged local Main Street programs to support larger projects within commercial historic districts to make more of an impact within their communities.
Thus, MSE increased the maximum award to $5,000 for its mini-grant program.
The new MusicFest small business grant, which is not tied to the DTRG, will follow suit, said Brumley.
She noted that the grant will support projects that make a noticeable difference for a downtown business.
MusicFest proceeds are typically divvied up for a myriad of projects, including those that help to improve the downtown aesthetic -- banners, planters and flowers, etc., said Brumley.
Additionally, a portion of festival revenue is placed into a pot to cover festival expenses, including talent, for the following year.
Brumley said such projects may not stand out to average citizens.
"Every year, we take proceeds from MusicFest and give back in different ways, bits and pieces here and there, things that people don't typically see," Brumley explained.
"Instead of small things, we can make a bigger impact by awarding it to a small business," she said.
"This is another way we're trying to make a bigger impact and let people know that the things we do aren't all necessarily events."
Brumley said MSE's design and economic vitality committees are heading up the grant project and are working to develop the idea, which was taken from conversations with other Main Street communities who attended the 2023 Destination Downtown Conference and who have implemented such programs.
The annual conference rotates between Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
This year's conference was held Sept. 13 - 15 in Monroe and West Monroe, Louisiana.
Brumley was a presenter at the conference.
"We don't know what the (grant) application will look like, but we know it will be used for projects to help make the business better and for a business that holds the same values as Main Street," said Brumley.
"The grant won't be held to the facade of the building, the building itself, and it won't be for merchandise, obviously, but it can be used for something that will greatly help building -- maybe new flooring, paint or fixtures that they need," she continued. "We won't know what those needs are until they fill out the applications and we start to see some of those requests."
She said the grant will be supported by MusicFest proceeds, noting that the size of the awards will depend on revenue that is generated by the festival.
"It's hard to show somebody $100 here and $100 there, but when it's $5,000, that makes a greater impact," said Brumley.
"And that number is greatly determined by the people who attend MusicFest, so maybe it'll encourage more people to attend and bring their kids if they know they're helping a small business in the community," she added.
"It's also a feel-good moment for our sponsors to know that their sponsorships are serving multiple purposes. They're making the event more affordable and helping a small business, so it's a win-win situation for everyone."
The Musicfest small-business grant will be awarded in 2024.
MSE has released more details about the upcoming festival.
The group will begin closing downtown streets off to traffic at 5 p.m. on Oct. 4 to begin building the Main Stage at the intersection of Jefferson and Elm.
Organizers will offer courtesy carts for downtown patrons or anyone else who needs such assistance during MusicFest.
The cart will be available until 4 p.m. on Oct. 6 and 7.
More details about the cart service will be announced later.