October 28, 2015 — The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) awarded six community projects $3.9 million in funding today from the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF), including $3.1 million for projects owned by the City of Asheville.
Greenways, soccer fields and the WNC Nature Center are among the City of Asheville-owned assets that collectively received 80 percent of the allocated funding.
“The TPDF recipients in this cycle represent a collection of multifaceted capital projects that develop and sustain destination offerings while benefiting other local economic sectors—and the greater community—with facilities and infrastructure that enrich daily life for all of us in Asheville,” said BCTDA Chair Paula Wilber, vice president of sales at Biltmore.
Funding will assist with construction of projects that are expected to attract overnight visitors and generate spending at local businesses, jobs and tax revenue. The projects are also community assets that will be enjoyed by Buncombe County citizens.
TOURISM PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT 2015 FUNDING CYCLE RECIPIENTS
The Collider: A project of the Asheville-Buncombe Sustainable Community Initiatives, the Collider is a state-of-the-art business and conference facility in downtown which will host primarily mid-week corporate events and leverage growing demand for expertise from the nearby National Climatic Data Center. The Collider was awarded a TPDF grant for $150,000 in 2014. The 6,000 square foot, flexible meeting space will include a theater, breakout rooms, pre-function lounge area and an advanced technology infrastructure to support a data center and modern research facility.
JBL Soccer Complex Improvements: This project of the Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association (ABYSA) encompasses an upgrade and replacement of the artificial turf on four soccer fields at the City of Asheville-owned John B. Lewis Soccer Complex, creating a first-class facility that will serve both the community and visiting tournament teams. Funding approval will allow the City to free up $900,000 earmarked for the fields in the City Improvements Program.
River to Ridge: Riverfront Destination Development 2.0: A project of the City of Asheville, this continues redevelopment of the River Arts District in a second phase of capital improvement projects including the Beaucatcher Greenway, the French Broad River Greenway Network (on the west bank) and a crosswalk and river access at Amboy Park. The vision for this phase is to create an outdoor recreation experience that connects from scenic Beaucatcher Overlook Park to Downtown and South Slope to the River Arts District and New Belgium Brewery. BCTDA approved the total $1.7 million requested for these elements. Rebuilding of the Velodrome at Carrier Park at $625,000 was also part of the application, but not included in the TPDF awards. Last year, the City of Asheville was granted $1.8 million for the first phase of capital improvements along the French Broad River including a Riverfront Arts and Culture Dispensary, pedestrian walkway connections, greenways and boat ramps.
Award: $1,000,000 for Beaucatcher and Amboy now, and $700,000 for future funding consideration for the French Broad Greenway at the February BCTDA meeting prior to the construction start date.
Asheville Museum of Science (formerly the Colburn Earth Science Museum): A relocation and expansion of the museum includes its Moving Science Education into the Spotlight project. The renovation and move to 8,000 square feet on the street level of the Wells Fargo Building provides more visibility and greater accessibility, enabling the museum to reach a broader market with new permanent and traveling exhibits, an expanded gift shop, state-of-the-art classrooms and updated technology.
Western North Carolina Nature Center: As part of Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center’s 2020 vision, the Center will receive a new park entrance, including a welcome area, an events plaza, and a new building for ticket sales, gift shop and guest services. The facility upgrade will enable the WNC Nature Center to move forward with dedicated donor funding earmarked for developing a permanent butterfly exhibit, renovating the “Appalachian Journey” black bear exhibit and the adding of Bison and elk exhibits. TPDF funding of the upgrades will clear the way for development of a permanent butterfly exhibit and other exhibit renovations and additions.
Riverglass Public Glass Studio & School: This project creates a new public glass studio and school, anchoring the north end of the River Arts District. The warehouse conversion project will offer space for classes, demonstrations, exhibitions, glass artist studio space, a gallery and retail space. The collaborative studio setting will allow the non-profit Riverglass to provide affordable public access to state-of-the-art equipment keeping Asheville an important glass destination while attracting new artists to the area.
The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design in downtown Asheville did not receive funding for its creative conference facility, The Hive AVL.
“The TPDF process is thoughtful, collaborative community building at its best. This granting mechanism not only offers these exciting, impactful projects a critical infusion of funding, but it clears the way for local institutions and municipalities to greenlight other important initiatives,” said TPDF Chair Robert Foster, director of hotel operations at Biltmore Farms Hotels.
The TPDF process began with a funding cycle kickoff announcement in January. Sixteen Phase I applications were submitted by the June deadline. Subsequently, seven applicants moved forward to Phase 2. Those applications underwent an extensive review process and were not only evaluated on the legislative mandate of generating overnight visitation, but also on other criteria including overall economic impact, feasibility and financial strength. All Phase 2 applicants gave a presentation and answered questions from the committee during a two-day process. Committee members received additional insight during site visits at each project.
The total pool available through TPDF is $3,188,000—the 2015 project awards will expend all available funding. In addition, the committee is deploying a new future funding mechanism which allows BCTDA to consider and approve the TPDF committee’s recommendation of $700,000 for the French Broad River Greenway portion of the Riverfront project when funds have accumulated. Construction on this section is not slated to begin until May 2016.
Funding for the projects is generated from a portion of the room tax revenues paid by overnight visitors in Buncombe County lodging accommodations. In 2000, the tourism industry, and hoteliers, in particular, devised the idea to use a portion of the self-imposed room tax to provide a funding source for capital projects that would benefit residents in the Asheville area, while generating additional room nights. Since then, BCTDA has invested more than $23 million in 27 projects.
The tourism industry generates $2.6 billion in economic impact to the region by attracting more than 3.3 million overnight guests annually.
Our view: TDA grants take care of the home folks Citizen-Times (November 2015)