From Asheville Watchdog: TDA Expenses for US Open: $70K for travel, food, coozies

Asheville court signage
On-court signage was one of the benefits of the Buncombe County Tourism and Development Authority's $1.3 million sponsorship Photo courtesy of Explore Asheville

By Sally Kestin, Asheville Watchdog

The tab is in: On top of the $1.3 million Asheville paid to sponsor the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the public tourism board spent more than $70,000 in expenses that included catering and travel for their staff, board members and guests, nearly $25,000 on Asheville-branded beer coozies, and more than $1,000 on floral arrangements.

As Asheville Watchdog reported last week, the Tourism Development Authority’s $1.3 million sponsorship agreement included tickets to a luxury suite for two nights and passes to the President’s Suite. The Grand Slam tennis event in New York ended last weekend.

In a news release Monday, the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau listed the names of the suite guests and a summary of expenses paid for with tax money.

On Sept. 7, Asheville Night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, 17 guests watched the men’s and women’s quarterfinals in Asheville’s luxury suite, most of them travel writers or editors from publications such as Travel and Leisure. Also in attendance were Asheville-based Coco Villa, a fashion designer and performance artist, and musician/actor Moses Sumney of Asheville and his manager.

On hand from Explore Asheville were President and CEO Victoria “Vic” Isley, Senior Vice President of Marketing Marla Tambellini, Director of Public Relations Luisa Yen, Group Marketing Manager Carli Adams and TDA board member Matthew Lehman.

The tourism agency used the suite to “engage with media and influencers, build relationships and share the latest news about Asheville to inspire future coverage about the character of the community,” the release said. “It is normal practice for destination marketing organizations to host events for members of the media, frequently in the media capital of NYC.”

Explore Asheville has been working with Sumney on a content partnership, Yen told Asheville Watchdog, noting that he posted from the suite on his Instagram account, which has 284,000 followers. The tourism agency covered airfare, accommodations at The Bowery Hotel, and transportation for Sumney and his manager at a cost of $8,790.43.

Villa was invited after a guest cancelled; she was already in New York for another event, Yen told Asheville Watchdog.

The sponsorship agreement required minimum expenditures of $1,800 in food and beverage plus gratuities and taxes in the suite each night; the tab for Sept. 7 came to $8,913.75.

Lehman, the TDA board member in the suite, said in the news release that the night was “a terrific opportunity to engage with media and clients. Based on conversations, I feel confident that we will be welcoming visitors and conference attendees to Asheville in the near future.”

Explore Asheville night
Explore Asheville got a luxury suite, and fans got Asheville beer koozies on Asheville Night. Photo courtesy of Explore Asheville

Fans entering the stadium on Asheville Night received drink coozies with Asheville and US Open logos. Explore Asheville spent $24,466.67 on 15,000 coozies.

The agency also spent $1,099.34 on “suite décor.” Yen told Asheville Watchdog that covered “florals and a plant for the two nights.”

On Sept. 8, Explore Asheville hosted 18 meeting and event planners from the New York area in the luxury suite. Staff members Isley, Adams and Director of Sales Connie Nuckolls Holliday were in attendance, along with TDA board member Brenda Durden.

Food and beverage costs for that night came to $9,747.68.

“One guest is considering Asheville as the location for a conference that would generate more than $415,000 in direct spending in our community,” the release said.

Explore Asheville used its access to the President’s Suite to discuss bringing more tennis events to Asheville with U.S. Tennis Association’s CEO and executive director, Lew Sherr, the release said. Asheville hosted the Billie Jean King Cup in April that generated $8 million for local businesses, according to the tourism agency.

In attendance in the President’s Suite were Isley, Tambellini and Yen, as well as TDA board members Lehman and HP Patel.

Explore Asheville paid $8,289.63 for airfare, hotel, transportation and meals for its five staff, and $1,859.12 for hotel and airfare for Lehman. The other board members paid their own travel expenses.

Lehman and the staff stayed at the Even Hotel Midtown East, which offered preferred rates for event partners, Yen said.

The tourism agency picked up transportation to and from the stadium for its suite guests at a cost of $1,498.97.

The $1.3 million sponsorship and expenses came from occupancy taxes paid by guests staying in Buncombe hotels, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. By law, the money is to be spent on attracting visitors and events to the Asheville area to support the local economy.

In announcing the sponsorship, the TDA touted benefits including on-court signs promoting Asheville, television spots on ESPN and marketing messages on and U.S. Open Radio.

As Asheville Watchdog previously reported, the only guests mentioned in that announcement were two teens from the Junior Asheville Tennis Association, who escorted the coin-tosser on court on Asheville Night. They were accompanied by a board member from the association and attended one session — but not in either of the suites.

Explore Asheville paid $5,374.55 for their travel expenses.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Contact her at


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7 thoughts on “From Asheville Watchdog: TDA Expenses for US Open: $70K for travel, food, coozies

  1. Voirdire

    I don’t know… The Buncombe County TDA, and the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau seem like a bit of a slush fund for the well connected in the right circles. I mean, the whole US Open thing is just insane…. to the tune of 1.3 plus million dollars and counting. Did/have you seen ANY other cities/towns doing this at the US Open? EVER? …ie. Charleston, Savannah, Chattanooga, et all? OF COURSE NOT. Why? …because they have enough sense to know that they’re not a brand, they’re a city ….and all well known tourist destinations… where they also know that their citizen taxpayers wouldn’t put up with this kind of WAY-over-the-top/ extravagant ( put it mildly) foolishness. Something just isn’t right here….like 1.3 million plus dollars not right.

    • Voirdire

      and…. I might add…. the TDA is a textbook example of a tax funded public “entity” that somehow has none, as in zero, elected officials oversight. Very convenient for those elected officials who are appointing folks to the TDA board of directors of course. Checkout their website- the Buncombe County TDA- and the TDA’s well-connected Board of Directors. This is well-meaning cronyism on steroids. Oh, and the Buncombe County commissioner and the Asheville City Council representative that are ex-officio TDA board members… they probably have some explaining to do come election time regarding this US Open “sponsorship” ….at least I would imagine so.

      • indy499

        The TDA is a joke, but given the quality of our elected officials, they aren’t capable of overseeing anything.

  2. blueridgeguvnor

    Asheville is trying hard to attract not only tourists, but obviously they want more wealthy upper class residents. People are fleeing New York and their oppressive policies in droves, AVL is scooping them up.

    If you think things like reparations, tree justice, equity etc are the priorities,you are sadly mistaken. Gentrification is the goal, the chaff will be swept away out of sight.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      sorry but gentrification is NOT the goal of city council womyn at all … they strive to resist it.

  3. Curious

    If Asheville citizens don’t like the way the TDA is set-up, why don’t they lobby their elected officials in the General Assembly to change the way the GA mandates the TDA spends the hotel taxes (collected from tourists, not residents) are spent?

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