Economic development initiatives have always focused on boosting local economies, but now they are commonly designed to deliver revenue to budget-restrained cities and counties. Attracting tourists and visitors is still a key focus of economic development efforts, but doing that in ways that impact a city’s revenue is becoming the norm.

Before the pandemic, tourism revenue represented nearly 3% of America’s national gross domestic product (GDP). That share dropped to a historic low of about 1.7% in 2020 as the effects of the pandemic set in. However, tourism revenue has been recovering rapidly since 2021. The payback is in trillions of dollars now, and domestic tourism represents about half of that revenue.

Large cities such as Orlando, New York and Chicago are known to attract the most tourists each year, but some smaller cities now appear destined to make the list of fastest-growing tourist destinations. These include Boise, Idaho; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Providence, Rhode Island; and Bozeman, Montana. Many large public-private partnerships are being planned throughout the country, and a large majority of them will be designed to create revenue that will flow back to city and county coffers.

Screenshot 2024 04 24 115403 300x167 Economic development has a new face along with visionary objectives

Photo: Rendering of the proposed Civic Center arena in downtown Mobile, Alabama. Courtesy of the city of Mobile.

City officials in Rochester, Minnesota, have announced plans to build an expansive regional recreation and sports complex to attract tourism, boost the local economy and add revenue to the municipality’s coffers. The initiative will include the construction of a sports complex with 24 multi-use courts for basketball, volleyball, pickleball and potentially other sports. Operators of the complex will schedule tournaments and events that pull in teams, parents and visitors who visit the city over the weekends. Officials also want the complex to be a community resource, so it will not only be used to host formal tournaments but also be accessible for informal sports play and other types of gatherings.

The complex project is estimated to cost $65 million, but the cost could increase with the selection of a location. It is currently in the design phase, and construction is planned for the summer of 2025.

Council members in Oklahoma City have approved plans for a $71 million stadium project that will be the home of the OKC Energy FC soccer team. It will replace the current stadium because that field is too small to meet the United Soccer League regulations. The 10,000-seat multipurpose stadium is destined to be located in the downtown area and will be designed to accommodate other large events, such as concerts as well as other sports events. It will be owned by the city and will be available for use by high school soccer teams and public community events.

The stadium will not only attract tourism for OKC Energy games, large-scale concerts and other sporting events, but it will also serve as the anchor for a mixed-use development in the area that includes residential, commercial, retail and dining options. The city’s coffers will be impacted positively. The project is currently still in the design phase.

A $300 million entertainment venue will replace Mobile Civic Center in Alabama. Plans call for the demolition of the existing building. The new civic center will feature an arena with a capacity for 10,000 spectators, retail space and VIP clubs. It will be capable of hosting hockey, basketball, other sporting events, concerts and other types of performances. Demolition services currently being solicited will be contracted separately from construction services that have yet to be advertised. The demolition is expected to begin in August and take six months. Construction is planned for February 2025.

The new entertainment venue will also support Mobile’s Mardi Gras traditions by including several ballrooms, meeting rooms and space for Mardi Gras floats. The Mardi Gras season brings about 1 million visitors to the city each year.

A $25 million urban park in Lincoln, Nebraska, is being developed to serve as a focal destination point for residents and tourists. The 8.5-acre South Haymarket Park will include amenities that include a large welcome area with ample space for events, a community building overlooking the park area, an extensive open greenbelt, a dog park, a playground, a skatepark, walking trails and an interactive water feature. The skatepark, which will be in-ground and designed for all wheels, will be designed to host competitions. The project is in the design phase, and construction is planned for 2025.

The state of Florida and the city of Jacksonville have partnered to invest $50 million in a $100 million project to move the Museum of Science and History to an area that will enhance and create additional attractions downtown. The large-scale initiative is referred to as the MOSH Genesis Project, and it will provide a new campus that can accommodate the growth required for an anticipated 450,000 visitors each year.

The new 130,000-square-foot facility will be developed on the Jacksonville Shipyards property and will include an aquifer exhibit and a water-quality bio laboratory. Currently in the design phase, it will be ready for construction by the end of 2025.

Not only do local governmental entities gain revenue from tourism and the creation of jobs, but they also often are afforded a revenue percentage of fees for the new public assets. This trend is gaining speed very quickly; fortunately, there is federal funding support for most of these initiatives.

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.