The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority held its monthly meeting on Wednesday. Here are a few highlights. In addition, tourism officials announced a music marketing partnership with the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Julie Mayfield on new hotel regulations
Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield, the council’s liaison to the TDA, spoke up at the end of the meeting to deliver her usual monthly report about what City Council’s been working on – namely, approving new regulations aimed at increasing the development oversight of new hotel construction. It’s an issue that the board full of hoteliers isn’t exactly fond of, to say the least.
Mayfield said she wanted to her offer her thoughts on the decision.
“I think the city is just in a different place in terms of big things that happen in the city,” Mayfield said, whether it’s hotel development, the construction of several new Duke Energy substations, the expansion of Interstate 26 through the city, or anything else.
“The city is demanding that third parties work with us in a different way. I think that’s part of the theme here,” she said.
“We’re still in this place of people being resentful” of the tourism industry in general, and the Tourism Development Authority in particular, Mayfield continued. (That was a two-fold reference. The first was noting increasingly vocal residents who want the TDA to spend more money on city infrastructure to offset the impacts of increasing tourism. The second was a reference to local hoteliers bypassing Asheville City Council and going directly to Buncombe County lawmakers to seek an increase in the county’s hotel room tax a couple of years ago, an increase that was approved. The move incensed City Council members.)
“We haven’t moved past that,” Mayfield said.
“What I would say about that is we have work to do and we need to do it and we need to get past this. It is not helpful for elected officials to be at odds with one of our major industries,” she added. Tourism officials celebrate the city, “and it is unfortunate that there is not an alignment” between city officials and tourism officials.
Mayfield said she specifically requested to serve as City Council’s liaison with the TDA to work on relations, and she apologized for not being as attentive as she wanted. She joked that some could call it “the eye of Sauron,” but said she would be turning her “attention to this in a much more intentional way.”
There are good reasons on both sides to be upset, she added, but reiterated again that “we’ve got to get past this. It’s ridiculous. It’s silly, frankly.”
TDA officials did not respond to Mayfield’s comments in the meeting.
January was slow
January was a slow month for the local tourism trade, according to Stephanie Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. There was one less weekend on the calendar for January this year, and the month didn’t get a boost from a big event like the U.S. Cyclocross championships of last year, which attracted 2,000 people over a 10-day period.
Still, Brown said the CVB’s sales and marketing team had been working hard, and she noted that its workforce development task force had secured a $150,000 grant. The money has to be used to help develop career paths that have higher-than-average wages, she said. A team of hoteliers and service providers came together and awarded a contract to Amplified Media in Asheville to develop a website and produce videos to help connect people to those careers, she said.
TDA’s new offices
Last year, the Buncombe County TDA to voted to break away from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. That resulted in the TDA having to find new office space, as well, which it did.
A lease is in place, Brown said, with “a June 23 delivery date.” She noted again that the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association and the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission will both relocate its offices to the same office complex. In addition, the Asheville Symphony is building a box office in the complex. (One of the TDA’s board members is also building a new boutique hotel nearby.)
Brown added that Buncombe County government has agreed to be the contractor for IT and payroll services for the TDA.
The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual planning retreat is set for March 23-24 at Lioncrest on Biltmore Estate.
Why does the Asheville Symphony want a box office at the corner of College Street and Town Mountain Road?
This is an excellent question. Presumably it will combine whatever administrative/office space they need with a base for online/phone sales . . . I doubt very many people will be showing up in person at that office complex to buy Symphony tickets.
Here, check this out. This is from the current BCTDA website:
Why? Why are we collecting tax to pay for this slush-fund? If part of the stated mission of the BCTDA, a non-profit, is to “(generate)income, jobs and tax revenues which make the community a better place to live and visit”, then why is it so hard to force the TDA to use money on…well… anything that we as a town decide make this a better place to live?
The notion that our leaders have their hands tied is false. They are sitting on their hands. We have a mayor who is so busy being a successful lawyer that she can’t meet with citizens. Julie Mayfield is a lawyer. We have an attorney on Staff, Robin Currin. With all this legal prowess, none of these women show any interest in finding a way to make the funds collected by the local government to go directly to the needs of the governed.
Can’t make the TDA give up a million dollars out of their current $17,600,000 annual contribution by tourists to fund arts programs in our schools? Well, here’s what we need to do:
We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary service of collecting 6% on the sales of hotel rooms in Buncombe County. You have done a fabulous job bringing Asheville to the attention of millions of people all over the world, and now they are coming for a visit! When they get here, they will expect the premium experience that you have advertised. This of course means that additional security and cleaning services will be needed for the party. Maybe some daycare too. Oh, and since our attraction is one of arts and recreation, we need to make sure that energy and talent continues to be fostered in our schools.
So, we, the people who have the power to give you the maximum tax rate that the grand state of North Carolina allows us to apply to hotel room sales, we would like to remind you that we can reduce that rate as well. There is no need to promote Asheville anymore. Sorry that you are the victim of your own success. The good news is that if you use the room occupancy tax to do things that make Asheville a better place to live, as it is stated in your mission as a non profit, then we will certainly maintain the current maximum rate of 6%.
If you continue to use the huge pile of dough that we collect for you to simply maintain an advertising agency for the greater Asheville area, we will pull the occupancy tax entirely and pass the savings on to the tourists.
In short, if you want us to collect 6%, you need to give half of that back to the community directly. Sorry that you will need to reduce your current staff of 24 people, 20 of which are women, 23 of which are white.
I support your sentiment on this topic, so I want you to be on the right page –
The City has absolutely nothing to do with setting the occupancy tax rate, or collecting it, and they certainly have no ability to unilaterally “pull it”. That’s all controlled by the State. Current State law gives counties the final say on any increase, which Buncombe County did by a vote of 4 – 3 in 2015. They (County or State) could reduce or repeal it altogether if they chose to, but the City has no say over it.
The City has to go hat-in-hand to the State, County, and TDA when it comes to the occupancy tax. They have very little power to threaten or demand anything from anyone, although increasing oversight of new hotels may give them some leverage. Unfortunately, I’d hate to see them use that for minor concessions on infrastructure money, ie. “Sure, we’ll approve that new South Slope hotel that nearby residents are opposed to, if you agree to pay for sidewalks, etc.”