Public officials and economic development organizations throughout the country are now eligible to receive large amounts of federal funding which have been allocated for projects related to tourism, recreation, and revenue-generating venues. The new funding available amounts to approximately $750 million.

Because the pandemic significantly damaged operations related to public assets that attracted tourism, served as cultural centers, and/or provided entertainment, the federal government is attempting to revitalize the operations, recover jobs that were lost, and provide revenue-generating opportunities for local governments. This will catalyze the launch of hundreds of new projects in the near future.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration is prepared to dole out funding through grant applications for states and communities that have losses in the travel, tourism, or outdoor recreation sectors. Every region in the country is eligible to qualify for funding from this finite but attractive program.

Many public entities have already announced plans. The Seneca Park Zoo project in Monroe County, New York, is ready for launch. Officials will overhaul the county’s second-largest tourist attraction at a cost of at least $60 million. That price-tag includes construction of a multi-level tropical complex with indoor and outdoor habitats.

In New York’s Onondaga County, local officials plan to build an aquarium for an estimated $85 million. A new 80,000-square-foot facility will be located within the Syracuse Inner Harbor, and construction will begin in late 2022. In addition to creating opportunities for private-sector partnerships, the new aquarium will result in hundreds of permanent new jobs and an annual sum of $50 million in new economic activity for the area.

A Sarasota, Florida-based project will be one of the city’s largest brick and mortar capital projects. Plans call for development of a new performing arts center at a cost of approximately $275 million. The federal funding will be enhanced by funding from city, county, and state coffers. Preliminary planning documents describe a 230,000 square-foot venue that will be constructed on stilts for resilience to coastal climate conditions.

Officials at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida plan to use federal funding to launch an enhancement project that will include construction of new exhibits for the zoo’s manatee and lion populations. During the initial phase of the $50 million renovation project, the zoo’s main entrance will also be relocated to improve visitor flow.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium in the city of Newport is home to the only aquarium in the state. Officials have announced that renovation work is planned for the large tourist attraction. There is a need to provide critical care to endangered marine wildlife including sea turtles, northern fur seals and snowy plovers. The project which will enhance and upgrade the facility also includes construction of a new Marine Rehabilitation Center. The $23.4 million project is in the design stage with construction expected to begin in 2023.

In California, city officials in Elk Grove are laying the groundwork for a massive zoo project. The plan includes moving the Sacramento Zoo to a location in the Elk Grove city limits and upgrading the entire facility significantly. The relocation plan will be divided into two phases and, according to the feasibility study, the two phases of the project will likely cost $315 million.

The city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is allocating funds for a large “experience venue” project designed to attract tourists. The plan’s $43 million price-tag includes construction of a flexible, multi-purpose facility with 20,000 square feet of conference space. It will also be designed to attract programs such as cheer, dance, gymnastics, and powerlifting competitions. A feasibility study is underway currently.

This type of new federal funding can also be used to update existing event centers. A project to modernize the Springfield Exposition Center in Springfield, Missouri, intends to take advantage of this opportunity. This refurbishment will include construction of a new commercial kitchen to the facility which serves as a venue for regional trade shows, recurring exhibitions, and other events. The project will also include a roof replacement roof and installation of new heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems.

Maryland’s governor recently announced that $9 million in grant funding would be distributed among projects to improve local museums, community centers, educational foundations, and other similar institutions. One project that will receive approximately $2 million will improve the Maryland Center for History and Culture.

Throughout the U.S., public officials are announcing plans to renovate and expand public assets as well as construct new venues to attract tourists and industry. An abundance of new public-private opportunities for partnering exists to collaborate on projects related to zoos, aquariums, museums, performance centers, and other centerpieces of local culture.

Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.