Luray considers establishing tourism zone

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― The town is looking to add one more “zone” to a growing list of designations aimed at helping Luray capitalize on incentives that cater to and entice movement on Main Street.

From HUBZones to technology zones to enterprise zones, the designations vary in how they work and what they offer, but the end goal remains the same ― bolstering business.

The county’s HUBZone designation, for instance, is aimed at helping small businesses in urban and rural communities gain access to federal procurement opportunities. While that program requires that a business be located in a historically underutilized area, the county’s enterprise zone designation, which was received in December 2014, includes a broader scope. Through that designation, localities offer incentives to businesses and industries that make investments in a town or in the county.

Now, the town is considering establishing a tourism zone.

Similar to a traditional enterprise zone, a tourism zone enables new and existing businesses to take advantage of state and local tax credits and deductions. Any city, county or town may establish, by ordinance, one or more tourism zones, according to Virginia Code. Localities may then grant tax incentives to tourism-driven businesses, including lodging, dining, retail, meeting and sports facilities, outdoor recreation areas, theme parks and event venues.

If approved, the designation could help Luray capture a bigger piece of Virginia's $24-billion-a-year industry.

In May, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that visitors to the state spent $24 billion in 2016 ― a 3.3 percent increase from the previous year that outpaced the national growth rate of 2.7 percent.
Visitor spending in Virginia supported 230,000 jobs, an increase of 2.8 percent, and generated $1.7 billion in state and local revenue.

In 2016, domestic travelers spent nearly $65 million per day across the Commonwealth. Employees in Virginia’s travel industry earned $5.7 billion in payroll income, representing a 5.9 percent increase from 2015.

According to the most recent numbers released by the Virginia Tourism Corp., visitor spending in Page County held steady in 2015, with revenue reaching $63.7 million ― up one-tenth of a percentage point from the year before. Between 2010 and 2015, tourist spending in Page rose more than 6 percent.

During the Luray Town Council's meeting last Tuesday, General Manager of the Mimslyn Inn Jim Sims asked council members to consider supporting a technology zone in the town. In addition to receiving tax incentives, the designation could potentially allow new or established businesses to apply for grants they otherwise would not have access to, said Sims.

“I don't see how it could be anything but a win,” said Luray Mayor Barry Presgraves.

The Luray Town Council unanimously approved to “support the concept” of establishing the town as a tourism zone and is set to review a resolution at an upcoming meeting. The council must approve an ordinance in order to establish a tourism zone.

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