Asheville residents who want a chance to help steer millions of dollars in Buncombe County hotel occupancy tax collections can have their say during public sessions today and tomorrow, as well as an online survey.

Over the past few years, tourism in Asheville and Buncombe County has increased. With that increased activity has come increased criticism from some residents, who want tourism officials to spend more money on projects aimed at mitigating some of those impacts. Tourism officials counter that their spending is bound by state law

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is inviting local residents to participate in an engagement process that will help them understand the impacts of tourism, identify capital needs in the community and develop a plan for long-term investments from a chunk of hotel tax money the TDA controls.

The first meeting is from noon to 2 p.m. today (Thursday, Aug. 15) in the banquet hall at the U.S. Cellular Center on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville. The second session is today (Thursday, Aug. 15) from 6-8 p.m. at the Edington Center on Livingston Street. A third public session is set for 9-11 a.m. on Friday (Aug. 16) back at the U.S. Cellular Center banquet hall.

The meetings are structured in a come-and-go format designed to allow one-on-one discussions. If you can’t make one of the meetings, you can participate in an online survey.

Go here to take the online survey.

The year-long process, called the Tourism Management & Investment Plan, is being facilitated by consultants PGAV Inc., which has worked with dozens of communities around the world on urban planning efforts focused on aligning quality of life and tourism activity.

Tourism is a booming business in Asheville and Buncombe County, with some 3.9 million overnight visitors each year spending an estimated $2 billion at local businesses and generating $119.1 million in state and local tax revenues, according to tourism officials.

The pot of money tourism officials are focused on is called the Tourism Product Development Fund. Since 2001, that fund has provided grants of $44 million to 39 community projects, such as the Enka Sports Complex, Pack Square Park, Asheville Community Theater, the WNC Nature Center, the Woodfin Greenway and Blueway, Asheville Museum of Science, the Wortham Center, renovation of the U.S. Cellular Center, improvements to the River Arts District, and projects that are still in the planning phase, such as the African-American Cultural and Heritage District and the Stephens Lee African-American History Museum.

“These are all wonderful community improvement projects enjoyed by residents as well as visitors that are funded through lodging tax revenue,” Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Brown says in a press release.

“And while tourism has been a very successful economic development strategy for our area, our community is also facing challenges that come with growth, workforce needs and infrastructure strain. We all feel it, and we want to work toward a solution together – that’s why we’ve embarked on this process. We believe that thoughtful growth through community collaboration can help reduce visitor impacts and create sustainable improvements for the long term.

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