October 26, 2016 — The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) awarded five community projects $3,930,000 in funding today from the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF).
The funds, generated from a portion of the room tax revenues paid by overnight visitors in Buncombe County lodging accommodations, will go toward three theater projects, a WNC Farmers Market revitalization project and additional features at Montreat College’s Pulliam Stadium.
“The collection of projects funded in this TPDF cycle holds significant community value while also being supported by the industry,” said BCTDA Chair Paula Wilber, vice president of sales at Biltmore. “Together they will elevate the arts experience, expanding the frequency and capacity of offerings; contribute to Asheville’s credibility as a culinary destination; build upon the area’s offerings for the sports market; attract new visitors to the region and be valuable community assets.”
The projects were thoroughly evaluated according to the criteria established by the legislature and the BCTDA. The 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 will also be enjoyed by Buncombe County citizens.
TOURISM PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT 2016 FUNDING CYCLE RECIPIENTS
Asheville Community Theatre (ACT) Expansion & Renovation: This project at the 44-year-old theatre, located downtown on Walnut Street, encompasses a multi-phase renovation of the current performance space and backstage areas including new seating, sound and lighting upgrades and increased capacity at their black box theatre. These updated amenities and modern-technology additions will lead to an expanded programming mix and greater visitor experience. These elements will also allow the theatre to create a new facility in a future phase to meet the growing demand for ACT’s education programs.
Request: $1,000,000 | Award: $1,000,000
ExploreAsheville.com Theater Creation & Meeting Room Conversion: A project of the City of Asheville, improvements to the U.S. Cellular Center include the installation of a curtaining wall system to transform the 7,200-seat arena into a theater with flexible seating capacity for 2,500 to 5,000 people, a sound and light package, and the conversion of a storage area into meeting space. The improvements are expected to expand the type and frequency of events that have been previously priced out of the Asheville market due to costly curtain, lighting and sound equipment rentals.
Previously, the BCTDA invested $4,175,000 in the City of Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center for facility upgrades and improvements through three TPDF grants in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Request: $1,509,400 | Award: $1,500,000
Montreat College Pulliam Stadium Phase II: This project, submitted by Montreat College, comes after the recently completed Phase I of the construction of a $2-million athletic complex featuring a new soccer and lacrosse field, running track, restroom facilities and parking lot. Phase II focuses on additional features such as athletic field lighting, grandstand seating and expanded parking that would enable the complex to be used for evening games, invitational competitions and multi-day community events.
Request: $350,000 | Award: $350,000
WNC Farmers Market Retail Revitalization Project: This project, submitted by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is part of a larger master plan that focuses on renovations and upgrades to the retail area. This includes the installation of commercial clear-view garage doors throughout the retail building to provide natural lighting, and interior and exterior facility improvements that contribute to an overall enhanced visitor experience.
Request: $500,000 | Award: $380,000
The Wortham Center: Submitted by Pack Place Performing Arts, this project transforms Diana Wortham Theatre into a facility with three separate venues for the performing arts. In addition to refurbishing the current theater with a new sound and lighting package and upgraded seating, two new theatres will be created to support additional and simultaneous programming of events within an intimate performance experience. The project also includes the revamping of the main entrance and courtyard area.
Request: $700,000 | Award: $700,000
Other projects in consideration for funding were the Asheville Community Yoga’s Wellness Expansion and the Town of Black Mountain’s Riverwalk Greenway Phase II, both of which were identified as great additions to the destination but were not funded due to the competitive nature of the cycle.
The TPDF Committee also received a $2-million grant request from Buncombe County Schools for the development of the Buncombe County Aquatic Center, a facility designed for practice sessions for local teams and competitive swim meets. The project represents a collaborative effort between Buncombe County Government, which committed $6 million to the project; Buncombe County Schools, which submitted the request, and the YMCA of WNC, which will manage the facility to be constructed at its Reuters location in Biltmore Park.
While the TPDF Committee is excited about the prospect of partnering on an aquatic facility, it concluded that the level of detail required for due diligence is not available at this stage of the project’s development. The committee has extended an invitation for the applicant to resubmit an application when necessary details become available, utilizing the Major Works Pathway. The Major Works Pathway is a strategic tool adopted by the BCTDA in 2015 that provides a mechanism for development partners with projects exceeding $5 million to submit proposals for TPDF funding outside the traditional TPDF grant cycle process.
“We’re very excited about the opportunities and offerings these projects will bring to local residents and visitors alike,” said TPDF Chair Robert Foster, general manager at Doubletree by Hilton Asheville-Biltmore. “The projects being recommended to the BCTDA are those that best meet the goals of the Tourism Product Development Fund. We appreciate all of the time and effort that applicants dedicate to this rigorous process.”
The 2016 TPDF grant cycle was announced in early 2016 and kicked off with a public TPDF information session in April. The application submission process occurs in two phases. Phase I consists of a short application designed to assess the viability of the application and conformity to the goals of the fund. Fourteen Phase I applications were submitted with a total funding request of $8,859,400 – plus a Major Works request from the City of Asheville for South Slope enhancements that totals $20 million over seven years.
The Major Works request will be assessed by the TPDF committee on a separate track outside of the standard 2016 cycle dates. The committee reviewed the initial request, is eager to learn more about the concept and recommended that the BCTDA provide support to the city for the development of the project by contracting the services of a professional destination development consultant. Those consultations began in early September.
Nine applicants moved forward to Phase II. One of those applicants withdrew its application.
The Phase II applications underwent an extensive review process and were evaluated on the legislative mandate of generating overnight visitation, and on other criteria including feasibility and financial strength. The rigorous review process included the submission of a long-form application; extensive supporting documentation such as financial reports, marketing plans and feasibility studies; in-person presentations of project details and a site visit by TPDF committee members.
The 2016 project awards will expend this year’s fund. Funding for the projects is generated from a portion of the occupancy tax revenues paid by overnight visitors in Buncombe County lodging accommodations. In 2001, hospitality industry leadership established the funding source for capital projects by increasing the occupancy tax. Since then, the BCTDA has awarded $23 million to 27 community projects. This most recent award increases that to $27 million for 32 projects.
The tourism industry generates $2.6 billion in economic impact to Buncombe County, supporting 25,000 jobs and generating $144 million in state and local taxes.