Wake Approves 'Tourism Tax' Projects; Now Waits For City Input

Aug 19, 2019

A rendering of the proposed enhancements for PNC Arena.
Credit Centennial Authority / hok/ratio

Wake County commissioners approved a plan that re-allocates close to $50 million to tourism-related projects in the county per year.

Most of the money subsidizes the Raleigh Convention Center, but there are other tourism related projects as well, notably PNC Arena, which is in line to receive $9 million per year for the next 25 years.

The money will finance several enhancements to the home of the Carolina Hurricanes and North Carolina State basketball. Most of the improvements will be to the four entryways. But other improvements are aimed at attracting new restaurants and making the facility an attraction for more than just game days and concerts.

Commissioner Susan Evans said she was happy to vote in favor of the project.

"It's been a very important venue for our community, and we want to continue to enhance the facility so that it has a bright future," Evans said after the meeting.

Revenue to support these projects is not generated from property taxes or fees. Instead, it comes from a special tax on hotels and restaurants in Wake County. The money must be spent on projects that promote tourism.

Commissioner Matt Calabria says that creates a virtuous cycle. "This round was about protecting the assets that we already know are huge economic engines," he said.

Notably absent in this round was funds for a proposed soccer stadium and mixed-use development dubbed Downtown South. That project has been proposed by Kane Realty CEO John Kane, who famously developed North Hills, and Steve Malik, owner of North Carolina F.C. and N.C. Courage. They have asked for $13 million per year for at least 20 years to subsidize a project that could end up topping $2 billion.

There's still a total of $46 million left to be allocated from the tourism fund, though that money is earmarked for "medium projects" between 2021 and 2026. Instead of committing to any funding for the soccer project, commissioners voted for a feasibility study to assess the need and viability of a project in south Raleigh and how such an investment would impact surrounding properties and communities.

It's possible more tourism tax money will come available, if taxes collected outpace city staff projections – as happened last year. It's also possible that the city or county could participate in the project in ways other than the tourism tax, said Malik.

"When you look at the various ways that the public can participate in this project, it's clear that everyone wants input around affordable housing; around what we do with the greenways; what we do with transit. And we have to have a public partnership to do that," he said. "What this added up to was let's evaluate and get this right. And I think we got great engagement."

Funding must be approved by both city and county officials. The Raleigh city council will meet Tuesday to consider approval.