The launching of tourism projects in America is rampant
Public officials at the local levels of government are using recent increases in tax revenue to support tourism projects. State officials throughout the country are also launching new funding programs to increase economic development and lock in future economic vitality. The result is that there is about to be an abundance of new contracting opportunities tied to economic development and tourism.
Earlier this year the Kansas Department of Commerce announced the availability of $30 million in funding for regional tourism projects. The state of Ohio also created a $50 million grant funding program to support tourism-related projects. Many other states are following suit.
One of the larger funding awards from Ohio’s program was allocated to support a downtown revitalization project which will be designed to attract more visitors to the city of Athens. Six historic buildings in the downtown district will be renovated through a regional collaboration. The project will be delivered through a public-private partnership.
Similar patterns are emerging in Wisconsin. State lawmakers released a budget that includes funding for a new tourism-focused grant program. It has an allocation of $50 million to support tourism-related projects.
Recent changes to North Carolina’s state laws have made larger portions of tourism funds available to local governments. One of the first projects will be a cultural hub with mixed-use housing. Planning documents include the construction of affordable housing facilities for service industry employees. The plans also include new commercial space for retail, arts and cultural activities that will attract visitors to the county.
Pinellas County officials in Florida will use increased tax revenue to fund landmark projects for tourism also. In 2022, the county’s 6% hotel tax yielded just under $100 million. One of the upcoming projects is a planned revamp of a baseball training complex. The facility, a longstanding spring training site for a major league baseball team, will be transformed into a year-round baseball development complex for young athletes. The project, which is currently in the planning stage, has a projected cost of $300 million.
In Virginia, Fairfax County officials have approved a capital improvement plan for several new investments to bolster tourism. The document outlines a proposed new county conference center. The project will involve construction of a 100,000-square-foot facility that will accommodate public gatherings, cultural events, community activities and professional conferences. Officials are considering multiple alternatives to the facility’s concept design including a proposal to enhance the conference center by constructing an adjoining hotel at the same time. Based on the alternatives under consideration, officials anticipate that construction and/or operation of the conference center will be handled by a public-private partnership. The cost of construction is still being determined but based on the design scale and depending on final decisions, the price is expected to exceed $40 million.
On March 22, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy Board approved $2.5 million for the planning stage of a world-class water sports facility in Stockton, Calif. With that approval, preliminary work is set to begin on the proposed aquatic center, which will ultimately cost another $15 million for construction. As the planning phase unfolds, officials will seek community input on the facility’s design concept to ensure that the facility becomes a recreational asset for surrounding communities as well as an attractive destination for tourists.
In Brevard, Fla., officials are investing heavily in a new tourist attraction that will be sited on port property. The project calls for construction of a 14-acre aquarium campus on Port Canaveral property that will be scaled to attract 300,000 annual tourists. At the center of the aquarium campus, officials propose to construct a 23,600-square-foot facility for research and educational resources related to coastal conservation. Initial planning documents for the $100 million aquarium indicate that this initiative will be launched in 2024 and the aquarium will be open to visitors by the start of 2027.
It is questionable whether there was ever a time when public officials throughout America were in the process of planning and launching as many new projects as what is happening today. The objectives are all the same – officials are ensuring economic sustainability and preparing for future growth. The common component is that they are almost all seeking innovative and creative private-sector partners. Collaborative initiatives will obviously be the norm for the next several years.