Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tourism awards nearly $5 million to community projects

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) provided a record amount of dollars from its Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) to five community projects this month.  

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) voted to award five grants, totaling $4,825,000, to five community projects during its board meeting today. The grants are made from the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) and mark the largest amount awarded since the Fund’s inception in 2001. 

Funding will assist with construction of projects that are expected to attract overnight visitors and generate spending at local businesses, jobs, and tax revenue. The projects are also community assets that will be enjoyed by Buncombe County citizens.

Recipients of the 2014 funding cycle for the Tourism Product Development Fund 

  • The Enka Center Ballfields project was awarded $2 million (the largest single amount ever awarded to one project in the history of the fund) to construct seven new ball fields and facilities in the Enka-Candler area that will enable the region to host traveling youth baseball and college softball tournaments and provide space for local youth sports.
  • Highland Brewing Company will receive $850,000 for expansion and improvements that will enhance the guest experience, including roof top access, event space and upgraded tour amenities.
  • The Riverfront Destination Development Project in the City of Asheville was granted $1.8 million for capital improvements along the French Broad River, including a network of visitor amenities such as a Riverfront Arts and Culture Dispensary, pedestrian walkway connections, greenways, boat ramps and a train-viewing platform.
  • Riverlink will receive $25,000 for establishment of commercial-grade river access at the Pearson Bridge to facilitate usage of river experiences and activities.
  • The Collider, a project of the Asheville-Buncombe Sustainable Community Initiatives, was awarded $150,000 for the creation of a state-of-the-art business and conference facility in downtown which will host primarily mid-week corporate events and leverage growing demand for expertise from the nearby National Climatic Data Center.
“The BCTDA is proud to be able to provide a source of funding for capital projects that not only grow the economy, but also build amenities that the community enjoys,” said BCTDA Chair Bob Patel, president of Bhuna Corporation/Quality Inn & Suites. 

The projects were among those submitted by 12 applicants during this funding cycle. The applications underwent an extensive review process and were evaluated against the criteria for funding including overall economic impact and number of new room nights generated based on the investment request, ability to measure out-of-market visitation, brand alignment, feasibility, and financial strength. Ten projects moved to phase two of the process which involved presentations to the TPDF Committee as well as site visits.   

“We’re excited to play a role in the development of these projects that will have such a large positive impact. The process was especially competitive since the total amount requested exceeded $10 million, more than double the amount available in the fund” noted TPDF Vice-Chair Robert Foster, general manager at Doubletree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore. “We appreciate the participation of all of the applicants.” 

All of the projects were scrutinized for their ability to deliver on the legislative mandate of generating overnight stays which ultimately enhances the economy. 

The five projects that were moved forward for a vote by the BCTDA were noted to be the most shovel-ready, and impactful in delivering visitors over time and during specific need periods. 

The remaining five projects that were not recommended for funding during the current cycle include the John B. Lewis Soccer Complex improvements, expansion of Asheville’s Fun Depot, Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum, renovation and expansion of the Swannanoa Valley Museum and construction of a new Event Pavilion at the WNC Agricultural Center. 

In 2000, the tourism industry, and hoteliers, in particular, devised the idea to use a portion of the self-imposed room tax in order to provide a funding source that could spur new projects that would benefit residents in the Asheville area, while generating additional room nights.  With passage of the legislation in 2001, the room tax increased from three to four percent with the additional cent dedicated to capital projects. Visitors also pay state sales tax on their lodging. 

“Through this self-imposed tax, the lodging sector of our community has been able to invest $19,758,500 over 13 years in projects that benefit this community,” said Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Stephanie Brown. “Not only are those projects attracting new and repeat visitors to the region, they also provide direct benefits for residents,” Brown added, noting projects such as sport facilities and enhancements to the U.S. Cellular Center and ExploreAsheville.com Arena as examples. 

The tourism industry generates $2.3 billion in economic impact to the region by attracting more than 3.1 million overnight guests annually. The BCTDA oversees the use of occupancy tax revenues paid by lodging guests who overnight in Buncombe County. The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau is an agent of the BCTDA and the official destination marketing organization for the Asheville area.

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