Tourism Development Authority approves long-term planning and research strategy

Mike Kozen presents to the BCTDA
GAME PLAN: Mike Kozen, CEO of St. Louis-based community planning company PGAV, unveils a new initiative that aims to collaborate with the Tourism Development Authority and other government entities to develop a 10-year plan to distribute grants earned from occupancy taxes. Photo by Brooke Randle

During the Feb. 27 Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority board meeting, staff of the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled and approved a new strategy, called the Tourism Management and Investment Plan, that will use data collection and input from community leaders, residents and public entities to develop guidelines for investing hotel occupancy tax revenues over a 10-year period.

The plan was developed by BCTDA members and PGAV, an architectural design and planning firm based in St. Louis, after the BCTDA committee recommended a suspension of its application-based process in October.

While the criteria and legislative mandate for the use of occupancy tax revenue remain unchanged, the ability to plan for Tourism Product Development Fund projects over the long-term will enhance the board’s ability to collaborate with other government entities, Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of Explore Asheville, said.

“We’re making this monumental paradigm shift for the TPDF,” Brown said prior to the meeting. “The outcome will be different in that we’re planning for a longer range so that we can take a more strategic view.”

The four-phase, roughly $440,000 project is set to begin this spring and conclude in April 2020. Those funds will come from occupancy tax revenue in the TPDF budget. Funding for community projects will then resume at a time yet to be determined after the planning is complete.

PGAV Vice President John Kasman says the project will incorporate community input “in every phase” of the work. Residents are encouraged to attend a public forum that will be scheduled for the coming spring, as well as complete an online survey that will help guide the project’s early steps.

While the BCTDA will lead the project, the board will work closely with PGAV, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County government. An additional steering committee, composed of former TPDF and BCTDA board members, and a Community Leadership Council, consisting of appointed leaders from a range of local organizations, will also provide input. Neither the BCTDA nor PGAV outlined any criteria for selecting members of the council.

The initiative generally received approval from the board, but Andrew Celwyn, the only member to dissent, felt “disappointed”  with the project, in part because it diverted funds away from future TPDF recipients.

Celwyn also pointed out that, while the process for distributing TPDF funds will change as a result of the new plan, the project won’t examine the original legislation that limits how occupancy taxes may be used.

“For all of the money and resources that are being devoted to this process, I’m disappointed that the scope is so narrow. It’s not looking at the broader picture of what we should do in our community, but only on what we can do under the current legislation,” Celwyn said. “Asheville’s unique place in relation to other tourism boards around the state should be both challenged and changed.”

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15 thoughts on “Tourism Development Authority approves long-term planning and research strategy

  1. TDA is corrupt and must be stopped

    The TDA is a blight on Buncombe county and annually diverts $17 million + (and counting) of taxpayer money into private coffers. Think of the infrastructure that could be properly taken care of with that tax payer money. Each time you hit a pothole that has been there for years, thank the TDA. Each time you wonder where the sidewalk is, or why the sidewalk suddenly stops, thank the TDA. Each time your water service is interrupted by another endless water line break, thank the TDA. Asheville and Buncome county are rotting away and $17 million + a year of taxpayer funds are being diverted to pet projects, exorbitant salaries, and paying for the advertising the hoteliers would have otherwise paid for themselves(and now don’t have to). This tax payer money should be used by the city and county for the city and county.

    • Curious

      ” . . .diverts $17 million + (and counting) of taxpayer money into private coffers. ”
      Is that the amount that Asheville/Buncombe County residents are paying in taxes to the TDA?

      • TDA is corrupt and must be stopped

        Indirectly yes, though the tax is paid by folks who are buying the hotel rooms who in turn are using city and county infrastructure. The key here is an occupancy tax is a common tax, the majority of states levy some sort of occupancy tax. In most tourist destinations the tax money is used at least in part to offset the negative effect of tourism on the local infrastructure which that is paid for by the local taxpayers. Portland, Oregon for example, 50% of the tax goes to the city’s general fund. The hotel lobby in NC was smart, they saw the national trend to impose an occupancy tax, but decided to “self impose” the tax in order to control where the tax money is spent, which is basically on pet projects, advertising (which they would have already had to spend), and paying their cronies ridiculous salaries to hire firms to do the leg work. In the 2018 budget for the City of Asheville $8.76 million was for transportation infrastructure, $4.64 for public safety, $5.3 for affordable housing. These infrastructure projects are being funded by a general obligation bond which increased property taxes on the residents, driving out locals and creating worse affordable housing issues. These projects are debt funded, the city is paying interest on the current year infrastructure projects which could have been paid debt free by the occupancy tax, on an annual basis. No, instead we use the money to build a rooftop on a brewery, paint a pretty picture in a church, advertising the smithereens out of the city and pay BCTDA execs handsomely.

        • Curious

          ” . . .Portland, Oregon for example, 50% of the tax goes to the city’s general fund . . .”
          Your discussion is helpful in understanding the issue.

          City of Portland: 6% (5% to City general fund; 1% to Travel Portland), and. Multnomah County: 5.5% (2.5% Convention Center Phase II, .275% hotel operators, 2.725% Convention Center Phase I)
          Occupancy Taxes | The City of Portland, Oregon
          https://www.portlandoregon.gov/revenue/29976

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    totally A G R E E !!! So damn sick and tired of the third world streets around here! And does anyone ever clean up along their street ??? EVER ??? WTF? trashiest place to be so effin ‘green’…

  3. luther blissett

    “The plan was developed by BCTDA members and PGAV, an architectural design and planning firm based in St. Louis”

    They actually hired a theme park designer.

    • bsummers

      C’mon, be fair. Their website says they also design zoos.

      Welcome to Myrtle Beach of the Mountains™

    • bsummers

      And are we taking bets on how long before someone says we need to raise the room tax so BCTDA has more money for advertising? Look at all those hotel rooms sitting empty with more being built every day…

      • Curious

        “. . .all those hotel rooms sitting empty . ..”
        What are the data on occupancy rates for hotels in our area?

        • TDA is corrupt and must be stopped

          Per the BCTDA website (look under board meeting and then minutes) January occupancy was 68.9%. Hotels are fine, it’s the use of the tax revenue generated by the hotels that should be the issue. Did you know the BCTDA CEO makes $225k per year? That is more than the governor of our state! That is more than 85,900 of the 86,000 North Carolina state employees!!!
          https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2018/10/11/highest-paid-north-carolina-government-employees.html

          The BCTDA is an awful organization, look at the makeup of the board they are either hoteliers or business people who have received money from the BCTDA. The BCTDA board controls the use of the $17+ million in tax revenue! They have no interest in the citizens of the City or County, their interests lie in getting more hotel rooms filled at whatever cost to the citizens.

      • NFB

        Soon.

        Anyone else remember the hue and cry from the TDA when it was suggested a few year ago that maybe there could be a raising of the room tax to help the city pay for services tourists use while they are visiting? The TDA insisted that this would make the cost of a room too expensive and we would lose tourists to Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg (because tourists can always go to the Biltmore Houese those places have.)

        But then when the hotel building boom started there was panic at the TDA that there were not enough tourists to fill all those rooms and viola! They asked for an increase in the room tax. Suddenly it wasn’t going to make rooms too expensive for people (because they can’t visit the Biltmore House in Myrtle Beach or Gatlinburg after all.)

        • bsummers

          They’ll point to Mecklenberg County (Charlotte) that has an 8% room tax vs. Buncombe’s paltry 6%. And they have fairly high occupancy rates – 78% in mid-2016.
          https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/development/article93799532.html

          “Gotta catch up! Gotta compete with Charlotte, Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, etc. etc. etc.!! More hotel rooms in the pipeline in Asheville, gotta advertise more to fill ’em up, gotta raise the occupancy tax to 7.5%!” (wait one-two years) …

          “More and more hotels going up in response to the buzz about the increased BCTDA advertising budget. Occupancy rates dropping! Gotta advertise more!”

          Rinse, repeat, until there’s absolutely nothing downtown but hotels and tourists. Higher and higher taxes for locals to pay for basic City services that tourists pay nothing for, mean higher cost of living. Affordable housing disappears, all the artists get driven out… Goodbye Asheville, hello Myrtle Beach of the Mountains™

          • luther blissett

            Turkeys don’t vote for Thanksgiving.

            The irony here is that smaller Republican counties and municipalities haven’t faced the same obstacles in diverting occupancy tax revenues to public services — big government! — thanks to a friendly state legislature. Let’s see if the Republican challengers to Susan Fisher, Brian Turner, John Ager and Terry van Duyn run on a tax-and-spend platform in 2020 with respect to the TDA.

  4. NFB

    What other industry has the state collect a tax that the state then hands over the said industry for the sole promotion of that industry promoting itself?

  5. NFB

    And oh yeah. Three years ago City Council approved plans from John McKibbon to renovate the BB&T building into hotel use. In order to get that approval he made several promises one of which was to work to change the lase to see that a portion of the room tax would go to the city to help it pay for various services used by tourists. Yet nobody can seen to answer just what Mr. McKibbon has done to make good on that promise.

    https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2016/01/12/ashevilles-tallest-building-gets-nod-overhaul/78675704/

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