Tourism Association of Greater Waynesboro speaks out on Wayne Theatre

waynesboroThe Tourism Association of Greater Waynesboro issued a press statement Monday expressing shock and dismay at the recent budget recommendations by Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp not honoring the city’s resolution with the Wayne Theatre.

From the statement:

The tourism industry, the fifth largest private employer in the state of Virginia, generates over $700,000 in lodging tax revenue alone as well as a significant portion of over $4,000,000 in meals’ tax revenue for the City of Waynesboro. Local tourism relies on anchor sites and attractions to draw visitors who spend money in hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

Waynesboro’s economy depends heavily on three pillars: industry, retail, and tourism. Heavy industry used to be the strongest pillar in terms of taxes and employment, but that’s not the case anymore. Waynesboro may continue to attract light industry, but needs to improve its infrastructure (school buildings, sewers, etc.) and quality of life to attract employers who are looking for more than minimum wage workers. Retail options have improved over the last 10 years. Wal-Mart and Target spawned the large number of shops and restaurants on the west end. People travel here for the variety of stores and for the convenient access from I-64.

Finally, there’s tourism. A few years ago, a city council member was asked about the benefits of local tourism and replied “Why would anyone want to come to Waynesboro?” At the time, the city had a part-time Director of Tourism. The situation has improved since then, but tourism still doesn’t receive the attention or financial incentives compared to the other two pillars. Yet visitors are finding that there are numerous reasons “to come to Waynesboro.” We are a central location for their excursions to Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, wineries, breweries, agriculture demonstrations, and more. In addition, Waynesboro has good hotels and restaurants to accommodate these tourists.

Just 18 months ago, the City of Waynesboro’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism issued a press release stating, “Every region in Virginia posted an increase in tourism revenue in 2013 and Waynesboro’s growth was substantial, landing the City within the top 10 percent of all localities’ surveyed. Tourism has historically been an important contributor to the local economy, and in 2013 this trend continued. Revenue from tourism for the City of Waynesboro reached $33.6 million, a 4.4 percent increase over 2012.

More than 350 local jobs were directly supported through tourism last year, while local tourism-related taxes equaled $1.1 million.” Greg Hitchin, Director of Economic Development and Tourism also stated in their press release, “An integral goal of our Economic Development strategic plan is to devote time and resources to establish Waynesboro as a regional tourist destination.”

The Wayne Theatre and, eventually, the Virginia Museum of Natural History will be anchor tourism sites in the heart of the city, providing a sought-after destination for visitors from neighboring counties and beyond. Not only do they provide educational and entertainment opportunities for local residents, they also provide an incentive for tourists visiting other attractions to spend a greater proportion of
their money within the city limits. In addition, they provide a picture of growth and revitalization to all those passing though on Main Street.

Tourism anchor sites not only act as revenue feeders to local shops, restaurants and hotels; they also attract new businesses which create new jobs and new revenue sources for cities. These visitors spend money in our community without requiring much in terms of the city’s resources.

Reinvestment into the tourism industry and these attractions generates more tax revenue. The Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) just issued a statement applauding the efforts of state lawmakers for their investment back into the state tourism industry, stating “Tourism is an instant revenue generator in Virginia, and every dollar VTC invests in tourism marketing generates five dollars in tax revenue.” Generating new revenue through economic development and investment in tourism takes planning, resolution, and follow through. We ask that the city and council members weigh the recommendations of their own appointed Waynesboro Economic Development Authority by approving this investment back into the local tourism industry, and honor their resolution with the Wayne Theatre.

A history of breaking agreements and resolutions, whether they are binding or non-binding, does not inspire confidence in future private/public partnerships and does not create a vision of positive economic development. The bottom line: Waynesboro provides significant financial incentives for the other two pillars of our economy. It makes sense to provide incentives for the third pillar as well.

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