HUNTSVILLE — The Town of Huntsville could become the first government entity on the northern Cumberland Plateau to apply to the state for "Adventure Tourism Zone" status under a 2011 law that provides tax break incentives for certain tourism-related businesses and other benefits, if the Board of Mayor and Aldermen here have their way.
The board on Thursday voted unanimously to authorize Mayor George W. Potter to make application with the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development (ECD) for the adventure tourism zone status.
Vice mayor Mark Love, who owns Brimstone Recreation, said the town's plan is still being finalized, but added that meeting the April 15 application deadline imposed by the state should not be an issue.
Exactly which parts of the town would be set aside as an adventure tourism zone was not specified; Love said that the town "doesn't want to exclude anybody that wants to have that opportunity (to have their business located inside the adventure tourism zone)," but added that state planners had recommended that the board not submit the entirety of its corporate boundaries for consideration.
Speaking of another county last year, Sen. Ken Yager — R-Harriman, who authored the 2011 Adventure Tourism Act — said that an entire county or town being submitted for adventure tourism zone status consideration would more than likely be rejected by ECD.
"If we designate certain areas (of the town), it will look a lot better than doing the whole area," Love said.
New or expanding tourism-related businesses inside adventure tourism zones can receive job tax credits under the law's guidelines. However, there are stipulations that would likely make most businesses ineligible: $500,000 in capital expenditures and the creation of 13 full-time jobs that are tied directly to tourism. Among other things, the bill also sets forth guidelines for county- or city-owned streets to be made legal for ATV traffic. State and federal highways would continue to be off-limits for ATVs.
The Huntsville board passed a resolution in June 2013 to apply for an adventure tourism zone, and passed similar measures the following two months related to a specific plan. At the time, however, ECD was not accepting applications.
While the state legislature passed Yager's adventure tourism legislation in 2011, ECD only recently handed down guidelines to municipalities and counties wishing to apply for adventure tourism zones.
Meanwhile, Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals told the Scott County Chamber of Commerce at its monthly directors meeting Thursday that the county is also looking at adventure tourism zones, but cautioned that the process of preparing to apply for such a designation will be time-consuming.
"There is so much information that the state is requiring for us," Tibbals said.
The county has established a nine-member adventure tourism committee, Tibbals said, which will meet for the first time Monday and will be charged with going through the guidelines handed down by ECD and determining the best way forward. Those recommendations will be forwarded to County Commission, which Tibbals said will be faced with most of the actions necessary to move forward with an adventure tourism application.
"We waited three years for answers, and they submitted a 3-page document that creates more questions than it answers," Tibbals said of ECD's guidelines, adding that his office has already requested that the state grant an extension of its application deadline from April 15 to June 30, or forego a deadline altogether.
The county's adventure tourism committee includes representatives from Brimstone Recreation and Trails End Campground, as well as the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, the Chamber of Commerce, the county Road Department, and the community at large, Tibbals said.
Tibbals said there is a big misperception about the adventure tourism zones, saying that it is not about letting ATVs "run free on roadways" and adding that the bill isn't just about ATV-related tourism. "It's anything related to hiking, kayaking, rappelling . . . it's quite a long list," he said.