WOODSTOCK — After batting around the idea for months, the Shenandoah County Tourism Council has proposed a draft application for new and existing businesses to receive benefits from a new tourism development zone.
Jenna French, director of Economic Development and Tourism for Shenandoah County, presented the Tourism Council Tuesday with a template application culled from other localities around Virginia — leaning heavily on Waynesboro and Williamsburg.
“Most of the tourism zones throughout the state are specific to towns or cities — not counties,” French said, pointing toward one obstacle the council faces. As a part of the county government, the incentives associated with its tourism zones will differ from similar zones in towns such as New Market.
“The majority of our incentives are going to fall back on to tax rebates,” French said.
Though the application was simple enough to put together, French said, the bigger challenge will be creating scoring criteria to determine how the county distributes benefits. The score sheet will have to answer a wide range of questions: is the business filling a need or is the market saturated; does the business fit into the county’s comprehensive plan; how many jobs will it create?
French said she started putting together scoring criteria and will have a draft before the Tourism Council’s next meeting.
“Until you get their figures and you start to plug them in and start to see what that return on investment is,” French said, “it’s really hard to come up with a blanket guideline.”
Some council members expressed concerns that a score sheet or “blanket guideline” won’t capture the whole picture of what a business could bring to the county.
“It’s going to be tough because there’s so many different things you could get that one scoring sheet could apply to,” said Bill Schumacher, a council member representing agribusiness.
Schumacher, who owns Fort Valley Ranch, offers horseback riding and overnight stays in cabins. He said the raw numbers a business like his would offer if he added 10 cabins won’t look the same as an amusement park.
Growth in his business might only bring in a small percentage change for the county via the transient occupancy tax, but overnight visitors will go out and eat in local restaurants and shop in local businesses, he said.
“It’s a creation of an atmosphere,” Schumacher said. “It’s a destination atmosphere as opposed to immediately the one project payoff.”
To start, the county will be looking at strict numbers like occupancy tax, the number of jobs created and initial investment – or additional investment for existing businesses.
Coe Sherrard, the former owner of the Woodstock Cafe and a council member, said the score sheet should involve a multiplier formula of some sort to gauge potential impact based on the type of business.
French said the Tourism Council will have to grapple with all of these issues moving forward, assessing what it wants the tourism zone to accomplish and what it wants to incentivize.
“We have to determine what’s the primary objective,” French said. “Some of these things may have huge job creation but very low wages, is that what we want?”