By Kevin King
Most people against the proposed occupancy tax have not looked into the actual plan claims Vincent Marini of the Flat Rock Playhouse. The plan, as written, would levy an additional one-percent on hotel room nights and be used by the Playhouse to advertise and attract tourism. The benefits of which would be felt by hotels and restaurants throughout the county, boosting overall tourism says Marini.
“We have an opportunity to change the dynamic of the tourism in Henderson County,” Marini said. Using the estimated $200,000-250,000 generated from the tax increase, the Playhouse would be able to build on its already existent call center and outreach efforts to increase the overall draw of Henderson County. The belief is, if more people come from out of town to view a show at the Playhouse, they will also have dinner, drinks, and spend the rest of their weekend in Hendersonville and the surrounding area.
Marini cites economic studies that show the average out-of-town tourist spends roughly $40 each outside of their purchased ticket. He believes this would result in a direct benefit to the local restaurants in town. Furthermore, he states that if people come into town to view at most two shows, that will give them forty-eight hours to enjoy the rest of what the county has to offer tourists.
However, there are many that have various concerns with this plan. Some opponents see it as a handout that yields only hypothetical benefits. In response to this criticism, Marini adds, “It is only beneficial to us if it works.” He states that if they are not successful in increasing the overnight stays in Henderson County, that is less money available for their advertising. These hypothetical benefits, he believes, will be easily measured and quantified. Either there will be an increase in occupancy tax revenue, or there won’t.
Marini says that the overall plan won’t work unless they are successful in their efforts. Without an increase in benefits to local restaurants and lodging, they will not succeed in increasing revenue to expand their outreach. “It requires partnerships,” says Marini. “We can’t be an island.”
Other opponents to the tax revenue going directly to the Playhouse list the Playhouse’s recent fiscal decisions as their main concern. Citing in 2009 a deficit of $1.3 million. To which Marini responds that by 2011 that deficit was reduced to $500,000. “We’ve made changes and they have worked,” he says.
In 2009 Marini said their record attendance was something they didn’t expect to change in 2010, but it did with a loss of 15,000 patrons. They adjusted their plan and made “really important long term changes,” Marini assured. In July of 2012, they are already in the black, with an increased donor base of 150% over 2009. “We are very fiscally responsible,” Marini said with confidence towards those concerned about the use of the funds.
With these new funds will also come the transparency associated with receiving tax money. “Those concerned about this money going to pay actors or overhead shouldn’t be worried about that,” said Marini. He says that they will be treated as any private contractor and follow the rules of transparency.
More than anything, Marini encourages the opponents of the tax increase to actually sit down and take a look at their plan. He believes that once most people do that, they will see the situation in a different light.
The one-percent increase will expire in less two years and can be reviewed and removed by the Commissioners if it is unsuccessful or is no longer fitting to the county’s plan. The tax will be added to the already five-percent collected on hotel rooms nights in the county. That five-percent will continue to be used by Henderson County Travel and Tourism, a fund that is roughly $1 million annually.