TDA updates county on long-term planning

Tourism Management and Investment Plan
FUTURE OUTLOOK: Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, suggested the body's Tourism Management and Investment Plan could use placemaking to spread the impacts of tourism throughout the county. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

According to Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s Explore Asheville convention and visitors bureau, area residents had offered “terrific amounts of public engagement” about the authority’s Tourism Management and Investment Plan. But during a Sept. 3 presentation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, she wasn’t ready to reveal exactly what members of the public had shared.

“I think it would be premature to jump ahead,” Brown said, when asked by board Chair Brownie Newman about specific takeaways of public input on the plan, collected through a series of August workshops and surveys. The TMIP aims to guide investments on a roughly 10-year time frame for the authority’s Tourism Product Development Fund, which by law must spend 25% of occupancy taxes on capital investment projects that drive new overnight visits to the county. Since its establishment in 2001, the fund has awarded $44 million to projects such as the Asheville Art Museum, Asheville Community Theater and WNC Farmers Market.

Alongside positive feedback, Brown said, some comments had highlighted the drawbacks of the region’s popularity with visitors. “We recognize that the impacts of tourism are creating some experiences in our community that residents don’t like, and there are feelings that we’re being overwhelmed by tourism,” she said.

In response, Brown suggested that the plan would develop a different perspective on how occupancy tax revenues might be used to mitigate tourism’s negative effects. While she emphasized that the TDA would continue to operate within the boundaries of its enabling legislation  — a frequent refrain in public statements she’s made over the past several years — she said the process would bring a “new set of eyes around what that means and what really qualifies for funding.”

The TMIP comes at a critical point in the expansion of the region’s tourism economy. As outlined in Brown’s presentation, the property tax value of hotels in the county is projected to nearly double from its 2015 level by 2022: from $6.4 million to $12.7 million. That value is tied only to hotels already approved or under construction, meaning that Asheville City Council’s proposed hotel moratorium would have no impact on tax growth associated with approved or existing lodging facilities.

Brown hinted that a newly envisioned approach to tourism spending might seek to spread visitors and economic development throughout the county with placemaking improvements. Early discussions with Buncombe officials, as presented on June 18 by Tim Love, director of intergovernmental projects, identified multiple opportunities in areas outside of Asheville, such as a proposed sports complex in Swannanoa and greenway-connected trails in Weaverville.

“I do think a lot of good is going to come out of this, and I can tell a lot of work is going into it,” Newman said after Brown’s presentation. “The only process concern I have is that, if it is just limited to capital [investment], do we miss part of the potential conversation?” he then asked, referencing the 75% of occupancy tax revenues currently dedicated to tourism promotion.

“The discussions are not limited to capital,” Brown replied. “In the end, we may have priorities that we work together to find other sources of funding to accomplish them or look for flexibility in the resources that are available.”

BCTDA officials plan to present the results from the first phase of TMIP planning at a public forum on Tuesday or Wednesday, Oct. 22 or 23. The process is expected to wrap up in April. More information is available through the authority’s website at avl.mx/6hg.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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8 thoughts on “TDA updates county on long-term planning

  1. luther blissett

    “Brown suggested that the plan would develop a different perspective on how occupancy tax revenues might be used to mitigate tourism’s negative effects.”

    So is that just optics or an actual change of direction?

    The TDA should at very least: a) voluntarily cap its annual ad spend; b) lobby Raleigh to change the controlling statute. If it won’t, the county should rescind the increases in the occupancy tax so that there’s a de facto cap on the ad spend. The question Ms Brown ought to have been asked is about the marginal utility of its millions: does spending $11m on ads compared to $10m deliver a 10% increase in tourist revenue?

    • Lulz

      LOL Newman doesn’t care because he doesn’t feel the pain. He’s a effing millionaire POS who got rich off the government. How do you expect someone who has made their living off of government contracts while voting them in to do anything but wag his finger AT HIS CRONY FRIENDS? Oh they cut the budget by a million? Cry me river. They’ll pass property tax increases instead.

  2. Mike R.

    I seriously doubt much if anything will change with respect to how TDA spends the 25% for tourism-related projects.
    This all looks and feels like a lot of “jawboning”; bringing in a consultant for $400K+ to go through this “process” with the community.

    Stephanie Brown, CEO of TDA makes certain to frequently point out that the state law is very specific about what type of capital projects this money can be spent on; and it doesn’t include sidewalk maintenance in downtown Asheville.

    It probably matters not. My view is that tourism in Asheville is going to gradually dry up anyway. It’s an ok place for a couple of visits but then you run out of stuff to do. And it’s expensive. No I rather think like most stuff in America, Asheville’s tourism fad will fade too. And likely sooner than anyone would presently believe.

    • ashevillain7

      “Asheville’s tourism fad”? LOL. Fads don’t last for over a century.

      • Mike R.

        Tourism in Asheville has waxed and waned over that century with many long dry spells. Tourism follows the economy. The US economy is headed for a fall in a major way. If you want to believe it’s going to continue to grow and flourish, be my guest. Just don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

  3. luther blissett

    “Early discussions with Buncombe officials, as presented on June 18 by Tim Love, director of intergovernmental projects, identified multiple opportunities in areas outside of Asheville, such as a proposed sports complex in Swannanoa and greenway-connected trails in Weaverville.”

    This is bovine effluent. The TDA spends enough money to know what visitors do: they spend time in Asheville, they drive the Parkway, they head out to adjoining counties. (That is, those counties get the benefit of the TDA splashing millions on ads without doing anything.) They target specific demographics: older active outdoorsy people who are going to head to Graveyard Fields or Brevard or Dupont Forest, and millennials who’ll post selfies from rooftop bars and breweries. The Powerpoints are there for everyone to see. Who exactly in the TDA’s well-defined ad reach is going to visit “greenway-connected trails in Weaverville”? This is nonsense.

    The TDA has too much money for its own good — it’s burning $100s to keep the house warm — too much power as a result of its money, and too little accountability.

  4. henry

    A longterm public drivenTDA management approach is to vote in a state General Assembly that makes necessary changes in legislation to restore as much as possible local control of cities self-government.

    • luther blissett

      Let’s see what the NCGA looks like if and when the state has fair districts.

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