Morrisville wants ‘in’ on tourism tax fund

aramos@newsobserver.comJune 21, 2013 

  • Tourist tax projects

    Past projects financed by the Wake County hotel and food tax include:

    • Expansion of the Mudcats’ Five County Stadium

    • Marbles Children’s Museum

    • PNC Arena • Construction and expansion of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences

    • Yates Mill Pond Park

    •  Carolina Ballet

    • American Tobacco Trail Park

Morrisville wants a share of the $6 million that Wake County will soon make available for projects that bring in tourists and overnights stays.

For the past three years Morrisville contributed a total of $6.1 million to the county’s hotel/motel tax fund and has yet to receive any money for projects, according to town data collected from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Morrisville is the county’s third largest hotel tax fund contributor behind Raleigh and Cary, which have received money for projects such as the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and WakeMed Soccer Park, respectively.

“Initially, most hotels were located in Raleigh, and it made sense that funded projects should likewise have a Raleigh address,” said Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe. “This is no longer the case.”

Raleigh contributed about $9.3 million last year, while Cary generated $3 million and Morrisville $2.5 million. Morrisville’s contributions make up about 16 percent of the accommodations fund revenues.

“Because so much of the revenue for the accommodations tax is generated in Morrisville, a process that would return some of that revenue back to our community is needed,” she said.

Morrisville leaders have ideas, but no specific plans yet, for how to invest tourist tax dollars. They’ll be competing with other local governments, businesses and nonprofit groups for the money.

“Cricket matches and tournaments at Cedar Fork District Park and Shiloh Community Park currently draw tourists to Morrisville several times each year,” Holcombe said. “Once a regulation cricket field is constructed as part of RTP Park, the number of visitors to our Heart of the Triangle hotels will further increase.”

The town’s rich Civil War history – it has a marker on the N.C. Civil War Trails – and ability to attract re-enactors also has potential.

“Creation of a civil war park, along the established N.C Civil War Trail, would likewise increase tourism in our area,” Holcombe said.

Wake County in charge

Wake County Commissioners decide how to spend the money. Wake collects about $17.2 million a year in accommodations tax and another $21.3 million a year prepared food and beverage tax. Both taxes are used to pay for tourism-related projects.

About 85 percent of the money pays for bonds and maintenance on the Raleigh Convention Center. The remaining 15 percent is available for other projects. Some money is already committed, but about $6 million is available, said Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers.

Wake County will release new guidelines and criteria for groups, towns and businesses to submit applications for major facilities funding this summer, Rogers said.

Projects must fund visitor-related programs and activities. It’s required by the state law that allows Wake County to levy the taxes.

Wake County has committed $10 million to expand three sporting facilities in Cary through 2019 with the hotel tax. The work includes a 3,000-seat expansion at WakeMed Soccer Park; expansion at the USA Baseball National Training Complex and 12 new indoor courts at the Cary Tennis Park. The tennis park work is expected to include court resurfacings, a 1,900-square-foot clubhouse expansion and a permanent shelter with room for 200 spectators.

The project would expand Cary Tennis Park, whose 30 courts attract 240,000 visitors and several tournaments each year.

Tony Chiotakis, Morrisville’s interim town manager, said staff is still coming up with a list to put before the council for a vote.

Ramos: 919-460-2609.

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