Public Forum Scheduled for Oct. 23, 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. Based on a rigorous application process, 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.
Investment strategy will replace applications
Under an initiative known as the Buncombe County Tourism Management and Investment Plan to Develop Community Assets (TMIP), the TPDF 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 paid by hotel guests, and has engaged the consulting firm PGAV Inc. to provide technical expertise. At the Tourism Development Authority’s September board meeting, Mike Konzen of PGAV presented a progress update.
In August, as part of Phase One, “Assessment,” county residents had the opportunity to provide input by completing an online survey or participating in one of three public workshops facilitated by PGAV. The online community sentiment survey received more than 2,600 responses, while an online survey of visitors received more than 1,400 responses; three public input workshops were attended by more than 130 individuals. 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 studied countywide visitor and worker movement to identify stress points and inform strategies to disperse visitors from crowded areas. The data collected will help City and County officials develop 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 Wednesday, October 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium.
The October event will also include an overview of the remaining phases of TMIP: Discovery, Collaboration, and Prioritization.
Still to come: Phases 2, 3, 4
Phase Two will identify needs and opportunities for future projects with potential for TPDF funding. The team will conduct project-review work sessions to identify collaboration opportunities and eventually lead to strategic prioritization. During Phase Three, the project team will facilitate a series of meetings to gather public input and develop tourism management and urban design strategies. In Phase Four, prioritizing community needs and opportunities, strategies will be created for long-term investment of TPDF funds. 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.”