Historic $29 Million Invested in Major Tourism Projects on the 20th Year of the Fund

(ASHEVILLE— Oct. 25, 2023) The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) approved more than $6 million of new investment in three major tourism projects to benefit visitors and residents. Including the nearly $23 million committed to McCormick Field during the BCTDA’s July meeting, Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) investments total more than $29 million in awards this year, marking the largest annual investment in the 20-year history of the fund. With today’s decision, the authority has provided more than $86 million through 61 investments in 40 community projects across Buncombe County.

In 2001, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the establishment of the fund, which enables the authority to invest in capital projects that increase the number of overnight stays in local lodging properties, generating tax revenues, jobs, and spending at local businesses. Funding comes solely from the occupancy tax paid by visitors who stay overnight in commercial lodging facilities such as hotels, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts. Funding for the 2023 TPDF Cycle was collected under the 2022 legislation, HB1057, which stipulates that one third of the occupancy tax collected is to be split evenly between TPDF and the Legacy Investment from Tourism (LIFT) Fund.

“We are proud to commemorate the 20th year of this fund by directing investments towards projects that not only advance us closer to our economic objectives but also enhance our overall quality of place,” said President & CEO of BCTDA and Explore Asheville Vic Isley. “These investments demonstrate our community’s ability to work together and harness visitor revenue, ultimately benefiting local partners such as government, businesses, and residents.”

Following TPDF legislation guidelines, the TPDF Committee evaluated all projects submitted through the competitive grant application process and provided their recommendations to the board. After review, the authority board voted to invest more than $6 million in three major tourism capital projects.

“We are thrilled to receive this investment from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority for the second phase of the Enka Recreation Destination project,” said Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Director Allison Dains. “These funds are an important part in transitioning the Buncombe County Sports Park into a premier sports park and family destination.”

These community investments align closely with TPDF goals and Explore Asheville’s strategic imperatives by enhancing Buncombe County’s competitiveness for multi-day sporting events, dispersing visitors countywide, encouraging off-peak travel, and expanding family-friendly activities for residents.

“We are grateful to BCTDA for their continued investment in City-owned assets like McCormick Field and the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville,”‘ said City of Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. “The improvements associated with these grant awards will enhance our ability to expand the enriching experiences available for Asheville while utilizing occupancy taxes to do so.”

All three projects build upon previous BCTDA investments in tournament-quality assets that enhance the competitiveness of Buncombe County as a destination for multi-day amateur and collegiate sporting events.

“On behalf of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the staff at the Western NC Agriculture Center, and our equestrian and livestock partners, we are honored to be a recipient of this TPDF grant,” said General Manager of WNC Agricultural Center Sean McKeon. “Our partnership with Explore Asheville is a key component to the future success of the Ag Center. This investment will assist us in making the capital improvements necessary to continue to attract the very best events to our area and have a significant, positive impact on our economy.”


Buncombe County | Enka Recreation Destination – Phase II

Phase II of Buncombe County’s Enka Recreation Destination project includes turfing three fields and lighting four fields; a new fully ADA-accessible and inclusive playground; Park Ranger facility renovations including bathrooms, contact/first aid station, storage; and replacement of an outdated picnic shelter with a new lighted structure that will better serve the park for tournament gatherings and family events.

As a result of two prior TPDF investments in this project, Buncombe County celebrated Enka Recreation Destination’s grand opening this past summer and hosted its first tournament in June. Already frequented by numerous residents, this project will provide more family-friendly amenities and activities for residents. Buncombe County Sports Park currently attracts nearly 850,000 visitors annually, which is expected to increase to 1.18 million by Year 3.

The project is expected to begin in January 2025 and is estimated to be completed by June 2027.

TPDF Grant Investment: $4,054,415

City of Asheville | Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville Upgrades

The City of Asheville’s Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville Upgrades project includes improvements to the facility that will help retain and attract annual arena-sized events such as concerts, performing arts, and sport recruited in partnership with Explore Asheville. The improvements include a new multi-use sport court that will attract collegiate and amateur events, including volleyball and pickleball, to bring visitors to our community during the shoulder seasons. Additionally, the project includes rigging enhancements, concert and facility lighting, and audio/visual and network improvements to increase connectivity and bandwidth of the arena’s internet infrastructure.

Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville currently attracts 168,000 guests per year and expects to increase to 222,000 per year by Year 3 following the completion of this project.

The project began in June 2023 and is estimated to be completed by May 2025.

TPDF Grant Investment: $1,586,000

Western NC Agriculture Center | Equine Facility Modernization

The Western North Carolina Agriculture Center’s Equine Facility Modernization project includes capital improvements to existing facilities, specifically the replacement and renovations of barns and the addition of a 32,500-square-foot outdoor covered arena to meet the growing demand and compliance requirements of the equine industry in North Carolina. By upgrading the facility to meet current standards for equestrian events, the Center will be more competitive in retaining current events and attracting additional equestrian events throughout the year. This project also supports the BCTDA’s goal of supporting the dispersal of visitors outside of downtown Asheville and into other parts of Buncombe County.

The Center has demonstrated the ability to generate overnight lodging demand in Buncombe County by hosting multi-day equine events, particularly for lodging facilities in the southern part of the county. The Agricultural Center currently attracts 350,000 guests annually, which is expected to increase by an additional 100,000 guests per year by Year 3 following the completion of the project.

The project is expected to begin in June 2024 and be completed by January 2026.

TPDF Grant Investment: $500,000