The following is a guest editorial written by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Board Chair Gary Froeba and published November 25, 2019 in the Asheville Citizen-Times.
There’s been much to celebrate in our community in recent weeks, which the Citizen Times has covered in its pages.
- The Asheville Art Museum reopened with great fanfare; a nonprofit, state-of-the-art, downtown landmark and the culmination of a dream to create the Southeast’s premier art museum.
- The Center for Craft, the country’s leading nonprofit organization that identifies and convenes craft makers, curators and researchers, launched its National Craft Innovation Hub, a gateway to the other cultural assets found downtown within a few short blocks of one another.
- Across town, the Bob Lewis Ballpark run by the nonprofit Enka Youth Sports Organization completed installation of an extensive new lighting system for its seven ballfields – part of the Enka Recreation Destination, which will connect existing greenways and include the Enka Heritage Trail.
- An eclectic variety of successful local festivals and cultural events took place, including the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, the Appalachian Folk Festival, the Eliada Corn Maze, CiderFest NC, the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, and the inaugural Chow Chow culinary festival.
What do these cultural projects, events, facilities, infrastructure, and attractions have in common? They are meant to be enjoyed by local residents as well as visitors.
And, along with dozens of other entities, have received financial support in the millions of dollars from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.
This support has come either from grants through the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) or from the BCTDA’s festivals, cultural events, and major events sponsorship program.
Seeing coverage about these projects and events in the Citizen Times made it all the more ironic to also read a recent editorial by Ami Worthen in the paper on November 17. In that piece, Ms. Worthen accused the BCTDA of being an institution that “does more harm than good,” saying “our community would be better off without it.”
Tell that to folks associated with the 39 community projects and organizations that have received a total of $44 million from the TPDF the largest source of funding for these types of projects in Western North Carolina until establishment of the Dogwood Trust.
Those were grants paid with revenue that came from the occupancy taxes paid exclusively by visitors. Not out of your pocket. Not by local government. By visitors.
Explain it to the thousands of attendees at the dozens of festivals and cultural events that have received sponsorship dollars from the BCTDA.
Those dollars came revenue earned from paid advertising on the ExploreAsheville.com website. Not out of your pocket. Not by local government.
Ask the 18,000 local people who work in tourism-related businesses – your neighbors and mine – the value of the BCTDA, a public authority created for the public good to strengthen the local economy, creating jobs, generating tax revenue, and funding facilities and infrastructure.
Funding for the work of the BCTDA comes from visitors. Not out of your pocket. Not by local government.
Funding comes from visitors. The tax singles out hotels and other lodging properties and is paid by people who stay overnight in Buncombe County. It is then invested for the betterment of our community and all of us who live here. It is administered by volunteers – people who live here, who have families here — appointed by the City and the County.
Talk to the 1,200 local businesses – mostly small, independent ventures – about how they’d feel if the marketing they get at no cost to them, at no cost to you, at no cost to government, were to end. Ask whether they could survive on the patronage of local residents alone.
These businesses and our creative community of artists, crafters, musicians (including Ms. Worthen herself) have all benefited from visitors who come to enjoy what we get to enjoy every day. And that’s not coming out of your pocket.
Abolish the TDA, as Ms. Worthen suggests, and there are consequences that she fails to acknowledge.
To put it more personally, think about your favorite local restaurants, breweries, attractions, outfitters, and other independent businesses. Decide which ones you want to see go out of business. Is it a comedy tour bus? A music venue? A gift shop, gallery, river-tubing business, cafe? And which of your family’s beloved festivals and cultural events will cease to exist?
We invite you consider the facts about the benefits of tourism. And join us in supporting the Tourism Management & Investment Plan (TMIP), the community engagement process announced by the BCTDA a year ago to better manage tourism and consider revisions to the occupancy tax. The goal is to plan investments for the next decade, while maintaining the character and integrity of the region.
Let’s work together to manage tourism in a manner that sustains and enhances quality of life in Buncombe County.
Gary Froeba is the Managing Director of The Omni Grove Park Inn and is currently Chairman of the BCTDA.