The dreary morning weather on Wednesday, Sept. 6 couldn’t put a damper on a 1 p.m. reception celebrating the new office location and brand of the former Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. The newly-dubbed Explore Asheville CVB, a division of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, invited community partners to join in toasting to its new office space in Asheville and offered details on its focus for the upcoming year.
“A new era”
Planning for Explore Asheville CVB’s move began when the organization learned in December 2016 that their former office space at 36 Montford Ave. was being sold by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Working on such a short timeframe, the options for a new space were limited, says Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Pace Brown.
The Chamber’s decision to repurpose the CVB’s space came after the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority voted on Sept. 28 to separate the CVB from the Chamber organizationally.
“It came down to the City Center or this facility,” Pace Brown says, noting that the CVB felt it was important to remain as close as possible to the city’s Central Business District, while providing expanded space for meetings and visitor access. The 27 College Place facility, Pace Brown adds, ultimately offered double the space (8,000 square feet) at a lower cost than the City Center option.
Formerly a girls’ dormitory for the Asheville campus of the historically black college Shaw University, the building dates from the 1950s, Pace Brown says, and required extensive upgrades to fit Explore Asheville’s needs. The TDA had allocated $433,496 for interior construction and office furnishings.
“The contractors and architects were tasked with an impossible task of getting this building ready for our move-in,” says Pace Brown. “They accomplished the near-impossible of getting it fit for us on such a short time frame.” She thanked the property owner Martin Lewis, contractor Jamie Langford, and Fisher Architects for their “patience in moving and refurbishing” the facility.
The new digs will offer more cohesion for Explore Asheville staffers, with various departments grouped together around the building’s second floor. Upgrades to the building include glass windows and walls, which Pace Brown says will allow staff greater access to one of office life’s simplest pleasures: a window on the outside world. While the new space is more visually stimulating, the design also provides staffers with their own personal office workplaces, a quieter environment for conducting business, and several meeting and conference rooms, which will be utilized by staff and area partners alike.
“This is a new era for our organization,” said Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Chair Jim Muth during his dedication remarks to the assembled group. “We hope it will become a new hub for tourist activity in Asheville.”
Won’t you be my neighbor?
In addition to housing the Explore Asheville team, 27 College Place provides new office space to the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association and the Buncombe Regional Sports Commission, two of the Explore Asheville’s biggest community partners.
“We’re constantly partnering with these two organizations,” Pace Brown notes. The new Explore Asheville facility will provide meeting and conference space for other local organizations such as the Asheville Arts Council and other cultural nonprofits in the area. The first floor of the building will be used by the Asheville Symphony.
AIR’s executive director, Jane Anderson, said her organization is proud to share the space with Explore Asheville. “It’s an open office, with a lot of windows,” Anderson said during the dedication. “AIR and Explore Asheville have similar goals; we’re excited to move in with them.”
A bureau by any other name
Explore Asheville CVB also took the opportunity to rebrand itself as Explore Asheville, the moniker already used by the organization in its marketing ads and on its website, ExploreAsheville.com. Pace Brown says the rebranding will help create greater recognition for the organization among visitors who have seen their advertisements.
The name-change coincides with the organization’s transformation into an independent entity, a move Brown says was long overdue. “The CVB has grown into a big organization,” she notes, helping to oversee and coordinate the nearly $3 billion Asheville tourism industry. “It’s part of a natural evolution [among TDAs] across the country, part of the best practices identified for tourism promotion.”
For the time-being, Explore Asheville will retain the “CVB” part of its name, in order to avoid confusing visitors, adds Pace Brown.
New year’s resolutions
The change comes as Explore Asheville and the TDA prepare for the 2018 season. With over 3.8 million overnight visitors to Buncombe County annually, and 1,300 hospitality-related local partners, Pace Brown says that Explore Asheville is interested in furthering and focusing the progress it has made in the past few years.
“We’ve always been locally driven,” she notes, highlighting the $30 million the TDA devoted to community projects through the Tourism Product Development Fund, as well as the free marketing resources Explore Asheville offers to local entrepreneurs on its website.
The TDA will discuss its various strategies for moving forward at its annual meeting next week at the Grove Park Inn. “We’re already advertising in 15 markets across the country,” Brown says. “We plan to have a laser-focus on attracting overnight visitors in the next year.”
For now, Explore Asheville staff are settling into their new home at as the end of another busy summer season comes to a close. “Since the TDA was founded in 1983, we’ve been committed to using tourism to help everyone grow,” said Muth as a toast was made to Explore Asheville’s new beginning. “We’re committed to doing our part to meet the challenges of growth and help make a better community for everyone.”