President & CEO Vic Isley Shared the 40-Year Benefits of Destination Promotion and Investment; Richard Florida Provided a Keynote on the Future of City Centers; Matthew Bacoate Jr. Received William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award; and Partner Activations Immersed Attendees in Asheville’s Creative Spirit

Thank you to the nearly 250 local leaders, travel and hospitality partners, and community leaders who joined us at the Wortham Center for Performing Arts this Tuesday to celebrate the tourism development authority’s four decades-long commitment toward community investment! The 2023 annual meeting highlighted the economic growth across the region, stressing the importance of travel and hospitality’s role in the past and future.

“A city of 95,000 and county of 230,000 can’t solely support the creativity of our community without the expenditures of people from outside it,” President & CEO Vic Isley said during her presentation. “Since 1983, visitors brought just over $82 million into Buncombe County businesses. Through investment and promotion over the last four decades, that spending has grown 250 percent to $2.88 billion in 2022, pumping a total of nearly $41 billion into local businesses over 40 years.”

Richard Florida, co-founder of Bloomberg’s CityLab and best-selling author of Rise of the Creative Class, echoed that statement during his keynote, likening tourism to the front door and window of our community. “We once believed that downtowns primarily catered to workers and residents. The reality is that visitors must be part of the lifeblood, sustaining downtowns,” said Florida. “Asheville is ahead of the curve in creating a quality of place by using tourism as a lure to strategically attract talent and businesses, further building your economy. Now you must protect it.”

In addition to direct visitor spending in the community, the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) has committed $80 million to 45 community projects over the last 20 years. Projects include the John B. Lewis soccer complex, Woodfin Greenway and Blueway, and the YMI Cultural Center renovation. On stage, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer accepted a large ceremonial check for the $23 million McCormick Field TPDF investment, the first debt service project and largest investment in the history of the fund.

Matthew Bacoate Jr. was honored as this year’s recipient of the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award. A commemorative video directed by Paul Bonesteel debuted a collection of historical and new footage casting Bacoate’s long legacy of building community in Asheville. “It’s unbelievable and humbling to witness what we’ve gained in Buncombe County. From the research and hard work of convincing many to understand, join in, and bridge the gaps between races, we’ve carried negroes to new heights we’ve never reached before,” said Bacoate following the ceremony.

The annual meeting opened with a performance of Memory Affair by Stuart/Owen Dance. Following the event, guests were invited to network and enjoy activations from local creatives, including DJ Lil Meow Meow, Bad Drawings, J. Chong Eats, French Broad Chocolate, Asheville Brewing Company/Ninja Spirits, Giddy Chick Catering, Blunt Pretzels, Camilla Calnan Photography, Dare Vegan Cheese, and Legally Addictive Foods.

The 2023 Annual Meeting photos and our FY23 Explore Asheville Annual Report are now online.