Should a private business receive taxpayer money to stage an event?
That was the question of the hour at two recent meetings of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority as the board discussed how to dole out its dollars.
The debate was prompted by a funding request from the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa. The resort had snagged the interest of the Western North Carolina Porsche Club and enticed them to hold a car show on the property in July. The group had never had an event in the mountains west of Asheville, so representatives from the resort saw it as a prime opportunity to attract a new breed of clientele.
“We’re trying to bring some different kinds of business to this county,” Waynesville Inn owner Dave Stubbs told the TDA board. “Our feeling is you have to have that targeted. You can’t just say, ‘come to Haywood County’ — you’ve got to have a specific thing going on. We’re trying to take the lead to design and sponsor a specific event.”
TDA members seemed impressed with the idea.
“I think we’ve got an opportunity to really reach out and do something new,” said board member James Carver.
But would the Porsche show really benefit Haywood County as a whole, TDA members wondered? After all, the whole event would be hosted on the grounds of the Waynesville Inn, with meals and a special room rate included in the package.
“I think what you’re trying to do is certainly admirable, but I think the point is there are many events that come into town but they’re not based at a hotel and the money isn’t going to a hotel,” said board member Marion Hamel.
Hamel continued to argue her case the next day at a meeting of the TDA finance committee, which was coming up with funding recommendations.
“The problem is, you’re setting a precedent,” she said. “We have turned down so many ads and events because it doesn’t include everybody, and we’re in danger of setting a precedent we can’t afford to set.”
Board member Jen Duerr said that attitude, long prevalent in the TDA, was doing the area more harm than good.
“I think that’s what’s holding this area back,” she said.
Chair Alice Aumen said she saw a need for the TDA to be more flexible in its thinking.
“Let’s see if we can make it fit rather than saying no, because I think that makes us look very close-minded,” Aumen said. “If someone has gone to all the trouble to bring in this event, they deserve something.”
TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins told the board to think twice before turning down an event that someone else had done all the effort to attract.
“If somebody out there is willing to take on some of this stuff and help us expand our reach and our markets, then we need to think seriously about letting them help us,” Collins said.
Board member Ken Stahl said that despite good arguments in favor of funding the Porsche event, doing so would still raise some questions.
“We have a problem if we directly subsidize a private enterprise and then they directly benefit from it,” said Stahl.
The board eventually settled on a compromise: it would fund the Porsche event, as well as another event being held at a Maggie Valley hotel, for the events’ inaugural year only.