ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 25, 2019) — The Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF), a community grant program administered by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA), is undergoing an evolution.
The fund was established by state law in 2001 with an increase in the occupancy tax paid by overnight visitors to the Asheville area. Since its inception, 39 community projects have been awarded a total of $44 million, including parks, greenways, sports facilities, museums, theaters and historic sites – community assets that are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. These were selected for funding via a rigorous application-based process.
With an initiative known as the Buncombe County Tourism Management and Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP), the Tourism Product Development Fund will transition from this application-based process to a long-range investment strategy based on community input and collaboration with public entities.
“The objective of the Tourism Management and Investment Plan is to become more proactive and strategic in how revenue from the Tourism Product Development Fund is invested in future years,” said Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Pace Brown.
“We want to invest this funding, within state legislative mandates, in a way that will allow Buncombe County to manage the challenges of tourism while continuing to strengthen the economic vitality visitors bring to the region. We believe it is critical to preserve, protect and grow sustainably for the mutual benefit of residents and visitors alike.”
The project is funded entirely by the BCTDA using occupancy tax revenue. PGAV Inc. is the consulting firm leading the TMIP project team and providing technical expertise.
At the BCTDA’s September board meeting, PGAV Principal and Chair Mike Konzen presented a progress update on the yearlong project’s four phases: Assessment, Discovery, Collaboration and Prioritization.
As part of Phase One, Buncombe County residents had the opportunity to provide input by completing an online survey or participating in one of three public workshops that took place in August, all facilitated by PGAV. The project team also conducted individual meetings with more than 20 community stakeholder groups and held two meetings of the TMIP Community Leadership Council, a volunteer committee of 50 civic, educational, business and nonprofit leaders.
The team also conducted a market analysis to gain insight on visitor and worker movement around the county, in order to identify stress points and inform strategies to disperse visitors from crowded areas. The data collected will provide City and County officials with insights that can guide long-range capital improvements.
Following a thorough assessment of existing conditions, community plans, and future needs, the project team will present results of the surveys and other findings related to Buncombe County’s authentic heritage, local economy, capacity and affordability, infrastructure and capital investment, and connectivity at a free public forum on Oct. 23, 6 – 7:30 p.m., at AB Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium.
The October event will also include an overview of the remaining phases of TMIP. The full project is expected to be completed by April 2020.
“Our responsibility, as a public authority created for the public good, is to benefit the people of our community by enhancing the economic vitality of Asheville and Buncombe County,” said Gary Froeba, BCTDA chair.
“Tourism is a powerful economic engine that supports local businesses and contributes significantly to Buncombe’s status as having the lowest unemployment rate in North Carolina. This process will provide a blueprint for deploying grant monies from the Tourism Product Development Fund in a way that can help reduce visitor impacts and create sustainable improvements for the long term.”
About the TPDF
In 2001, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified a bill that dedicated an additional one percent to the three percent Buncombe County occupancy tax and created a Tourism Product Development Fund. This addition generates a dedicated source of funding that helps build community assets while also generating incremental overnight stays in paid lodging. The total occupancy tax was raised to six percent in 2015 with one quarter of the funds dedicated to tourism product development. Of the $44 million in grants that have been awarded since the TPDF’s inception, $22 million has gone directly to City of Asheville owned assets for projects such as the renovation of the U.S. Cellular Center, enhancements at the Western North Carolina Nature Center and improvements to the River Arts District. Other TPDF grant recipients include the Enka Sports Complex, Pack Square Park, the African-American Heritage Museum at Stephens-Lee Recreation Center and Asheville Community Theatre. In 2019, the BCTDA paused the TPDF cycle while it pursues the Buncombe County Tourism Management & Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP), which will result in a long-range plan that can serve as a blueprint for continued collaboration to address infrastructure and sustainability needs.
Established by legislation in 1983, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) is a public authority with a public purpose that enhances the economic vitality of Buncombe County. Charged with promoting Buncombe County as a tourism destination and administering its Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF), the BCTDA invests occupancy tax revenue to attract 3.9 million overnight visitors to Buncombe County who spend $2 billion at local businesses annually, supporting 15 percent of employment in Buncombe and generating $119.1 million in state and local tax revenues, for a total economic impact of $3.1 billion. Under the oversight of the BCTDA, the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) executes an extensive strategic promotion and sales program that inspires visitation and group meetings/travel while showcasing and offering free marketing services to 1,200 businesses that rely on visitors.
Tourism Management & Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP)
The following is an overview and progress report, as of Sept. 25, 2019, on the four phases of the yearlong TMIP project:
- PHASE ONE: ASSESSMENT. In order to gain information to inform the planning process and ensure widespread engagement and feedback from across the community, the TMIP project team conducted several activities:
- An online community sentiment survey, which received more than 2,600 responses
- An online survey of visitors, which received more than 1,400 responses
- Two meetings of the Community Leadership Council, a committee of 50 volunteers whose role is to share feedback and perspectives from the broader community and serve as a sounding board throughout the process.
- Three public input workshops, attended by more than 130 individuals
- More than 20 individual meetings with stakeholders groups
PGAV also conducted a market analysis that will deliver intelligence on visitor and worker movement around the destination to help illuminate stress points and inform strategies to disperse visitors from crowded areas. The new data will provide City and County officials with insights that can guide long-range capital improvements. (See below for a partial list of data sources.)
A Phase One Assessment Report is being prepared by PGAV that will describe conditions in Buncombe County related to tourism and community needs, incorporating the market analysis and feedback from the public meetings and surveys. This report will be presented at a free public forum on Oct. 23, 6 – 7:30 p.m., at AB Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium. (More details on the event will be released at a later time.)
- PHASE TWO – DISCOVERY. Phase Two will identify needs and opportunities for future projects with potential for TPDF funding. The team will conduct project review work sessions with public entities in order to gather additional information to identify collaboration opportunities and eventually lead to strategic prioritization.
- PHASE THREE – COLLABORATION. During this phase, the project team will evaluate and prioritize potential opportunities. This will include facilitating a series of meetings with public partners and stakeholders, facilitating public input, and developing tourism management and urban design strategies.
- PHASE FOUR – PRIORITIZATION. In this final phase, community needs and opportunities will be prioritized, and strategies will be created for long-term investment of TPDF funds.
As directed by state law, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is responsible for approving grants that are proposed by the TPDF Committee. The criteria for the evaluation of projects funded by the TPDF previously approved by the BCTDA and aligned with the legislation that created the TPDF, will continue to guide investment decisions.
TMIP will not affect the other uses of occupancy tax revenue, which by law must be invested in sales and marketing to promote Buncombe County as an overnight destination and support the thousands of local businesses dependent upon tourism. Any changes to the legislation require approval of the North Carolina General Assembly. Changes are also subject to the occupancy tax guidelines first adopted by the House of Representatives in 1997.
PHASE 1 DATA SOURCES INCLUDE:
- 2019 Community Sentiment Survey
- 2019 Public Input Workshops
- 2019 Visitor Survey
- Air DNA
- American Community Survey
- Americans for the Arts Economic Prosperity Report
- Asheville and Buncombe County Budgets
- Asheville Comprehensive Plan
- Asheville Regional Airport
- Buncombe County Property Tax Records
- Bureau of Economic Analysis
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- City of Asheville Downtown Circulator Study
- City of Asheville Parking Study
- Department of Housing and Urban
- Economic Complexity Index
- ESRI and Infogroup Retail MarketPlace data
- ESRI Business Analyst
- Explore Asheville Pipeline Report
- GfK MRI National Survey of Households
- Greenways Master Plan
- Heat Maps of Visitor Density
- North Carolina Department of Commerce
- Occupational Employment Statistics Survey
- Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
- State of North Carolina Fiscal Guidelines
- STR (formerly known as Smith Travel Research)
- U.S. Census
- US Bureau of Labor
CONTACT: Stephanie Brown
President & CEO
Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau