Sunday, February 25, 2024

Could tax dollars fund a new tourist attraction in the Historic Triangle?

Attractions at the European-themed park range from world-class coasters to scenic river cruises. (Courtesy Busch Gardens Williamsburg)
Busch Gardens is one of the attractions that will serve on the Tourism Council of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance. (Courtesy Busch Gardens Williamsburg)

Tax dollars could one day fund the construction of a tourist attraction in Historic Triangle.

The fate of revenue generated by state Senate Bill 942 is being determined by the Tourism Council. The Council was created by the Senate bill and is composed of elected officials from the three Historic Triangle localities and tourist destinations, including Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens.

The bill went into effect July 1, setting aside tax revenue generated by the $2 room tax from hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts and a 1 percent increase in state sales tax. Half of the funding from both sources will go toward marketing the Historic Triangle as a tourist destination.

The Tourism Council met Tuesday to elect their officers, discuss bylaws and appoint an interim executive director for the marketing office they will oversee.

They also made clear that the funding from the Senate bill could one day be used for the creation of tourist attractions. After two meetings this spring, council members still questioned whether the General Assembly was limiting their use of the funds to marketing and advertising purposes.

“I think the initial discussions we had, was the revenue for Senate Bill 942 strictly for marketing for the region or was it also for product development?” York County Supervisor Jeff Wassmer said during the meeting. “It was the feeling of the municipalities, and also the creator of the bill that, it was for marketing and development as this council saw fit. …Going forward, it’s a common understanding that funds from this 942 could be used for product.”

Wassmer, who was elected chairman for the Tourism Council, said he asked the bill’s sponsor — state Sen. Tommy Norment — for clarification and was pleased to hear that the funds could be spent as the council and its staff best saw fit.

“I really feel we need to make the area more attractive,” Wassmer said to WYDaily after the meeting. “What are we missing? Is it a sports tourism complex? When we build product that also gives some return to our citizens. It gives them more places to enjoy and recreate during the week. … Now what exactly that is I don’t know. We need to be bold in the way we move forward with that.”

He added that it was vital to use some of the funding to enhance the appeal of the area.

Williamsburg City Councilman Doug Pons said the council’s mission is not just about getting tourists to visit, it’s about getting them to come back to the area. A new tourist attraction could help achieve that.

“We know that we need new product here to invite new people to Williamsburg,” Pons said, adding that many people who visit the area choose not to return.

The new attraction could take many forms, Pons and Wassmer said. Those discussions will take shape as funding continues to roll in and an executive director is appointed. Both Pons and Wassmer floated ideas such as a sports complex or an aquatic center after the meeting.

“It’s hard to stand up today and say were going to build this here because everybody gets a little bit territorial,” Wassmer said. “Hopefully we can get creative. How do we revenue share?”

Wassmer and Pons both said it could be possible for each locality to split the revenues from any tourist attraction funded through the Tourism Council. Ultimately, both men said they believe another attraction in any locality would help the others as well.

“A high tide raises all boats,” Wassmer said. “Kids want to be entertained and we need to give people more reasons to come.”

He also said that by driving tourism the council can boost the local economy and the lives of area residents.

“The purpose of the Tourism Council, in my mind, is to strengthen the community,” Wassmer said to his fellow council members. “We all live in different jurisdictions, we all represent different companies, but we’re all together in this.”

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