The numbers just keep going up. Compared to May of last year, reported the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority at its June 26 meeting, overnight stays this May increased by 5%, yielding monthly occupancy tax revenues of nearly $1.5 million. And many in the community, acknowledged BCTDA President and CEO Stephanie Brown, want a say in what’s done with that money.
As the BCTDA unanimously passed its nearly $19.36 million operating budget for fiscal year 2019-20, Brown noted that the authority had begun engagement around its Tourism Management and Investment Plan, which will guide the long-term investment of the 25 percent of occupancy taxes earmarked by state statute for community capital projects with the potential to increase overnight visits.
Although around 40 “community leaders” were invited to talk about the TMIP at a June 12 meeting, she said that many in attendance had expected a public meeting and were disappointed when only those who were invited were allowed to speak.
Brown stated that the BCTDA was not aware of this gap in expectations until after the meeting. She said the authority would release the dates of four upcoming opportunities for public comments and questions on the TMIP soon; while still unsure what those discussions will look like, she anticipated that they would take the form of open workshops.
“I ask the community to recognize that there is a process, and that this is very important work, and it represents a really monumental shift in the way that we approach planning,” Brown said.
Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield, who serves ex officio on the BCTDA board, added that the city had received several emails and comments on the matter from members of the public. “There are some people who still don’t feel included,” she confirmed.
The BCTDA is currently in the process of finalizing a community sentiment survey, the findings of which will be presented the week of Thursday, Sept. 12. Brown said the next planning phase will be a deep dive into municipal partnerships. According to a budget amendment approved at the June 26 meeting, the authority has spent $85,278 of a planned $440,000 on the TMIP to date. The plan’s progress can be followed online at ashevillecvb.com/tmip/.